Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’
Viktor E. Frankl
Before we commence our discussion on this fascinating topic, I wish to share a real-life example of two of the lessons we learnt through the series of posts on the book, “The Richest Man in Babylon.” The lessons were – to incur debts wisely, and the power of compound interest. You may like to follow the link and go through the post before progressing further.
Yesterday I had called the barber to have a haircut and as it is any barber’s nature, he drew me into a conversation. This man, obviously of modest means, had his daughter married off a few months ago. To take care of the marriage expenses he had taken a loan of Rs. 7 lakhs from a private bank, by mortgaging his house – the only tangible asset he owns. This loan is to be repaid over fifteen years with an EMI of Rs. 12,000 per month. I did a mental calculation while still listening to him and realized that this poor man will be returning Rs. 21,60,000 (Rs. twenty-one lakhs and sixty thousand) to the bank – an additional R.s 14,60,000. This is mind-blowing even at face value but gets even worse as I take you through the financial import of this unwise financial decision.
Suppose if this man, instead of paying the EMI of Rs. 12,000 would have invested the same amount in the form of SIP in a diversified equity fund for the next fifteen years, what would be his corpus? Even if we take a conservative rate of return (CAGR) of 10% (for a long period of investment in a diversified equity fund, this is a conservative planning figure), it would have been a staggering Rs. 50 lakhs. The actual financial hit to this man is Rs. 64.60 lakhs (Rs. 50 lakhs plus Rs. 14.60 lakhs). This is a seriously large amount for even a well to do person, but for a lower-middle-class person, it’s a fortune. You might say that how this man would be able to have Rs. 12,000 per month to invest? Well, if he can pay this amount as EMI, he could have paid it as SIP also.
The next issue is how could this man have arranged this amount of Rs. 7 lakhs which was required for his daughter’s wedding? If he had known of a fundamental concept called Goal-based Investing, when his daughter was born, it would have been a piece of cake for him. Let’s assume his daughter is twenty-two years at the time of marriage. When she was born, anticipating her marriage after around twenty years, he should have started a SIP in an equity mutual fund. To have a corpus of Rs. 7 lakhs after twenty years, the required monthly amount will be a modest Rs. 1000 (at 10% CAGR, the amount works out to Rs. 7.65 lakhs, to be precise). This is the power of compounding in real-life. Incidentally, these concepts have been explained with examples in both my books.
The title of this series of posts is based on the title of one of my favourite books – Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. This book originated out of very trying and life-threatening circumstances that the author was under in the 1940s- the Nazi Concentration Camps. I am sure most of you have read the book, if not I will exhort you to do so at the earliest – it may change your outlook towards life.
Before I give a synopsis of the book, let me elaborate as to why I am writing this series? Even to the most sceptical of us or to the self-professed atheists, it must be clear that we don’t arrive on the planet Earth as an accident. Our current birth is part of a process, a grand design, which may have commenced thousands of years back and keeps perpetuating based on our actions and their reactions (call it Karma or Newton’s Third Law of Motion – it is true.)
There is this fundamental difference between the existence of an animal and a human being. An animal’s existence consists of eating, sleeping, procreating and dying and has no particular goal. Animals also don’t have the intelligence to identify the challenges in their life and take actions to change and rewrite their destiny. A human being, on the other hand, is blessed with the mental acuity and perspicacity to perceive and evaluate his life situations and undertake actions towards course-correction.
You may like to read the fascinating autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi, “My Experiments with Truth”, and realise as to how he was floundering along in life till he found his raison détre, the purpose and meaning of his life, and the rest is history. This is true with all the great prophets, achievers, sages and seers throughout the history of mankind – Lord Krishna, Christ, Prophet Muhammad, Guru Nanak, Mother Teresa, Swami Vivekananda, the list is endless.
Are you sure what you would like your epitaph to read?
All of us are not destined to achieve such greatness to change the course of history but definitely, we have in us the potential to change the course of the life and destiny of ourselves and our future generations. It is always that one person in a family who searches and finds his life’s meaning and then takes actions to change the destiny of his family, organization, country or indeed the world. All of you reading this article belong to the top 1% of the population in terms of status, money and lifestyle. If you look back on your family tree, you will easily locate that one person who dared to dream big and took concrete actions to fulfil his dreams. We all are reaping the benefits of that one person who found his raison détre.
But have we really introspected and asked ourselves as to what is our raison détre? Why are we here on the planet earth as a human being? We generally drift along the currents of life reacting to the circumstances of life and reach wherever we are by default. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure that all of you are doing extremely well in life with good work-life balance but are you sure what is it that you wish and aspire to achieve in life or rather from life? Are you sure what you would like your epitaph to read?
Most of us get fascinated with aspects like the accumulation of money and possessions, rising in our organization and such things. Even if you reach the very top of your organization or indeed your country, where will history place you on its vast canvas? Can you rattle out the names, in the reverse order, of the last 10 Prime Ministers, or the Presidents or Chiefs of your organization, without pausing and recollecting their names? Do you remember or really care about the top-10 wealthiest persons in the world or your country? There have been many millionaires and billionaires in the history but how many have left an indelible mark? We remember people like Bill Gates, Azim Premji, Ratan Tata and Adi Godrej not for their wealth but their philanthropy, for what they did with their wealth to ameliorate the life situations of millions of people. Whose company would you prefer – a billionaire like Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi or a pauper like Anna Hazare?
I wish to kindle this small flame of thought in your mind that you must live your life at your terms and in the manner in which your inner compass guides you. Whenever you drift off this course, there is always that little but firm voice in your conscience which asks you a question and gently points you to the correct direction. If we keep silencing this voice, soon it will grow quiet and leave us at the mercy of others who start dictating our destiny. There is a great cost to pay if we don’t listen to our inner-voice- we may end up way off from the target, our inner peace and joy.
We all seek unlimited happiness which can never be achieved by associating our happiness with something ephemeral like money, possessions and status
If an Inter Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) is not provided with constant course correction, it may land and destroy even our friendly forces. A small error of a fraction of a degree at launch may grow incredibly big at 5000 Km range and therefore there is GPS guidance to the missile. But if the missile, like humans has the freedom to make a choice and ignore the warning of the GPS, there may be a terrible price to pay. Our inner voice is our inbuilt GPS and many a time we chose to ignore its warnings to our peril. The result may be a gnawing and empty feeling when you have reached the end of your life and realise that whatever you did all these years was for outcomes which were too shallow to give you long-lasting happiness. We all seek unlimited happiness which can never be achieved by associating our happiness with something ephemeral like money, possessions and status.
With this longish prologue, let me come to the excruciating circumstances in which this beautiful book was crafted. The author Viktor Frankl was a psychologist of repute residing in Vienna, Austria when he and his family was arrested by Nazi Germans, because, well, he was a Jew. He spent three years in Nazi ghettos and concentration camps from September 1942 onwards and was one of the few lucky ones who survived the genocide. His family was not so lucky. His father died in the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia which was their first incarceration after shifting from Vienna. He and his family were then transported to Auschwitz in Poland in 1944 where his mother was exterminated. His rest of the family consisting of his pregnant wife and his brother also met the same fate in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
The horrors of the concentration camps and the abysmal and inhuman living conditions for the inmates are well-recorded in many chronicles and books and it is indeed a surprise that Frankl lived to tell his incredible story – in not-so-sound physical but robust mental health. Not only did he survive, he also provided succour to many other inmates by bolstering their mental strength to endure the tortures and ignominy of the concentration camps.
Before I tell you how he accomplished this incredible feat let’s take a tour of the Auschwitz of the infamous Nazi days, in the next part of this series. In the meanwhile, introspect and ask yourself – are you really happy with the way your life has shaped up so far? Have you followed your inner-compass whenever it blinked its warning light? If you had a way to go back to the age of eighteen, what would you do differently? What would you like your epitaph to read and are you taking actions to achieve that outcome?
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