Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Success Vs Joy - A Book Review

Success – that seductive mistress after whom everyone (well, almost everyone) runs – is a parameter by which society measures the worth of individuals. Success is thought of as the panacea of all ills afflicting us. We think success is the missing piece in life’s jigsaw puzzle and putting this piece in place will reveal a bright and a beautiful image and we will live happily ever after! Everywhere we go we find people eulogizing success. There are numerous books written on how to be successful. Before a kid turns 5 he/she is already going to ‘tuitions’; there are CAT coaching centers all over India to help aspirants clear the exam; there are hundreds of cricket academies who promise to churn out the next ‘Tendulkar’. If society has a god, it has to be success.

Joy, on the other hand, is an often ignored cousin of success. You don’t find that many books written on how to experience joy, how to be happy. You won’t find any cricket academy which teaches kids just to enjoy playing cricket and in the process score runs. You won’t find any coaching center which talks about the joy derived while solving a problem. Joy is thought of as something which will eventually follow success. Get hold of success and you will find joy.

Geet Sethi – 7 time world billiards champion – and Sunil Agarwal try to find the distinction between success and joy in this remarkably insightful book ‘Success Vs Joy’.  In the book, written as a first person account by Sethi, Sethi draws from his experiences on and off the billiards table to persuasively argue that it is in the pursuit of joy that one finds the maximum satisfaction. Success, according to him, is a social concept and its interpretation is very much dependent on what the society thinks. If you go after success it will lead you into doing things which the society expects from you, not what you really want. Joy, on the other hand, is internal. Joy is not something which happens at the end of a process, unlike success. Rather, joy is the process itself.

The addiction of Joy

Geet Sethi talks about the concept of sweet spot in ball sports like golf and billiards.  In golf when the ball is hit with the club, sometimes it flies a long way away not with the force applied but with the perfect alignment of the body, rhythm and timing.  Such a perfect connection of the club with the ball is called the sweet spot. Most of us who have played cricket can relate to it when on occasions we might have hit the ball without much force but it still would race away to the boundary due to the alignment of the body, the weight transfer and the angle at which the bat meets the ball.  That moment when the ball hits the bat, that sweet spot, is addictive.  Though in ball sports the sweet spot is literal, a figurative sweet-spot is available in all professions. A writer may hit the sweet-spot if he finds just the right combination of words to express exactly what he has in mind. A software programmer may hit the sweet spot when he chances upon a simple, elegant yet an intuitive algorithm to solve a complex problem. This joy experienced with hitting the sweet spot gives the maximum amount of satisfaction and is extremely addictive.

The corruption of Joy

So when a person gets so much joy in hitting the sweet spot why does he shun it? Why doesn’t he go after the sweet spot again and again to experience the joy? As per Sethi, this is because all of us fall prey to society’s expectation; all of us run behind money and fame; all of us try to be successful. It is in the pursuit of success that we forget about the sweet spot. As Geet Sethi writes, "I have learned that when I wanted success and was willing to sacrifice joy for it, I eventually got neither".

Apart from the pursuit of success there are many other distractions which prevent a person from experiencing joy. These include problems with spouse/family members, temptations from surroundings and playing to the ‘gallery’, among others.

Further in the book Geet Sethi gives tips on how to overcome the problems that lead to the corruption of joy. He stresses on the importance of concentration and single-minded focus on the job at hand and in the process experience joy.
The book has a unique format in that it is divided into 80 chapters with each chapter not more than 2 pages long. I felt the book was a little disorganized as the ideas presented in the book sometimes ended abruptly in a chapter and made reappearances a few chapters later. However, my key takeaway from the book is that the meaning of life is in finding our own sweet spot. The path is not easy as there are numerous distractions which pull our mind in all directions, but if one has a single minded focus on the job at hand these distractions will go away and we will succeed in our objective of experiencing joy.