Playing to Your Weakness: Lessons from the Bhagavad-Gita

I am one of those people who love to take what business coaches refer to as “Assessments”. One recognized assessment known as DiSC pegs me as “Results Oriented”.  The Myers Briggs Type Indicator, probably the most well known assessment out there, categorizes me as ENTJ – which, as one fellow coach reminded me, is the same personality profile as General George Patton.

I like to get things done, and get things done my way. That’s always seemed like a strength to me. The flip side of this is that I am profoundly uncomfortable doing things that I suspect I am not good at, will do badly, feel I am not cut out for, or fear I will look noticeably awkward attempting.

But what happens when what you are really good at is something you have come to dislike, that makes you dread getting up on Monday morning? What if what really captivates you, gets the creative juices going, and just feels so right is something that you are, well, not so good at? Something, in fact, that might highlight areas where you feel you are weak?

A few years ago I started to practice yoga, as a way to relieve stress from my busy, hardcore sales job. I am not what you – what I – would immediately think of as “a yogini”: I am not super thin, lithe, naturally flexible, or 28 years old. But it was my great fortune, several years ago, to stumble upon an incredible teacher who pushed and encouraged me, eventually challenging me to get my yoga teaching certification this past fall.

BGKrishnaArjunaAnd here’s where I want to bring in that 2500-year-old text, The Bhagavad-Gita – partly because I read it and loved it during my yoga teacher training, partly because it turns this idea of being “Results Oriented” on its head, and partly because it proves that 2500 years ago people probably knew more than all of us coaches and advisors today about motivation, and about living a satisfying life in alignment with your values.

The action takes place on a battlefield.  And it’s important to note that this battlefield is metaphorical, ie, ‘the great battlefield of life’. The warrior Arjuna has ridden out to fight and stops to scan the field, suddenly comprehending how many friends, brothers, teachers, and fellow warriors will be annihilated in the bloody destruction of war. He throws down his weapons in despair.

You see, Arjuna was results oriented too – and the result he was looking for was the righteousness and glory of victory. But when he came to the conclusion that, as far as he could tell in that moment, no good was going to come of his picking up his sword and being the warrior he was born to be, he faltered.

Enter Krishna, aka God, who up until now has been disguised as Arjuna’s charioteer. He tells Arjuna:

“You have a right to your actions,
But never to your actions’ fruits.
Act for action’s sake.
And do not be attached to inaction

Self possessed, resolute, act
Without any thought of results,
Open to success or failure…”

Get that? – you need to act WITHOUT ANY THOUGHT OF RESULTS. That is a very hard one to swallow, but it is also the way to set yourself free to be creative, to take risks, to fall on your face, to try something new, and maybe to achieve something great.

This makes no sense to Arjuna, whose thoughts are all over the place, weighing the pros and cons, as he tries to reason this out:

“The mind is restless, unsteady,
Turbulent, wild, stubborn;
Truly it seems to me
As hard to master as the wind.”

And Krishna gives him the greatest advice, basically telling him forget about victory and winning, about looking good, about the results you think you should get – act according to what you know in your heart you are meant to do:

“It is better to do your own duty
Badly, than to perfectly do
Another’s; you are safe from harm
When you do what you should be doing.”

Arjuna is a warrior, and he is meant to fight. And perhaps it is not so far fetched for any of us to heed the same advice that Krishna gives Arjuna:  that rather than throw in the towel, do nothing, or play on a small sad field where we know we won’t fail, we must:

“Let go of your grief, and fight!”

I am now a certified yoga teacher.  I did not metamorphosize into my idea of a what a successful yoga teacher should be like/look like, ie super thin, lithe, naturally flexible, or 28 years old. Yet despite this fact, opportunities to teach yoga or to combine this learning in unique ways with the work I do as an advisor and coach are presenting themselves to me on a weekly basis. And when I teach, or find creative ways to add some yoga into my other work, it feels really, really good – as if I am doing ‘what I should be doing.’

That results-oriented voice of General Patton is still there inside me, though I am able to quiet it a bit more easily these days. I pay more attention to the opportunities that present themselves to me rather than trying to force the results that I imagine are optimum. I accept more easily that I don’t always know what the outcome will be, and that all I can do is try to listen to the wisdom of my own heart. “To be self possessed, resolute” and do my best, “open to success or failure”.  And maybe most important,  I now understand that it is in this way that undreamt of possibilities are born.

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