Why business school grads are wired for misery: Part 1

This series of posts may seem controversial to some, but my intention is not to offend or deride business school grads, who I consider to be the wonderful achievers and doers of our society (after all I am one myself!) but instead to hopefully encourage them and importantly, the corporate world at large to introspect and gain a different perspective on success and achievement. 

Upon considerable reflection on the corporate world, whether it is big business or big banks where I myself have spent a number of years, I have come to the view that there are some serious failings in the cultural and human aspects of life in these organisations. To be more specific, when viewed through a spiritual lens, the beliefs and views of everyone from a start-up entrepreneur to an investment banker seem to fall short. (I fully recognise of course that anything I say will no doubt be in the nature of a generalisation.) 

Don’t worry, this article is not about to descend into a disillusioned rant on material success. Rather, I hope that the businessmen, consultants, bankers and lawyers will someday wake up and adopt a more conscious approach in their professional lives. The inspirations for this piece were the many friends and colleagues who, over the years, have been victims of stress, burn-out and just general discontent with their professional lives which also takes a took on their personal lives. Of course, my personal experience attested too. So common is this epidemic of dissatisfaction that it got me asking the question “If these are the ‘masters of the universe’ so to speak, then why are they so miserable?” I was convinced that the answer lay beyond pop-psychology and having delved into spiritual teachings, I can now see why so many of us have really been wired for misery.

In this post, I discuss the first reason, in my opinion: Ego worship

In my early days at business school, an article that we had to read for one of our classes, really struck a chord with me. It was about “telling your story”. The author of the article had done much research to conclude that we each need to create a story about ourselves and sell that to an employer, a colleague or a business contact. At the time, I thought it was a great insight.

However, isn’t that exactly the opposite of what spiritual teachers say to do? According to Eckhart Tolle,

“Your sense of identity, of self, is reduced to a story you keep telling yourself in your head. “Me and my story”: this what your life is reduced to in the unawakened state. And when your life is thus reduced, you can never be happy for long, because you are not yourself.”

So by creating and identifying with the ‘little self’ i.e. the story we create for ourselves, we are manufacturing a false self. It would not be so harmful if we were doing this consciously but sadly, we are not. Not only that, we are encouraged to really believe in our story. “Because if we don’t believe it, surely others won’t”. That makes the problem worse – this insistence on confidence and belief in a false, made-up self.

In the words of Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev,

” From an existential perspective, both “self” and “esteem” are a problem. Both are limited, fragile and insecure. From a mystic’s point of view, if you have no esteem, very good. If you have no self, fabulous!”

Achievement in our society is based on a grand sense of self and of our capabilities. And yet this proves to be the biggest obstacle in spiritual development which is the only real means of attaining happiness. So aren’t we then wired for misery?

As the spiritual teacher Mooji, explains so well in one of this talks(1), if the Truth and happiness is what we seek, then we must try to be ‘nobody’. Surely this is anathema for business school professors and company executives. Or is there a way for them to accept this teaching and figure out a way of integrating it into their work and objectives?

Read Part 2 in this series here.

(1) Check out his talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqtpEKBd8Ug&index=44&list=PL76YT2TM9CEhi21bTszvX6Nsj6R7NxBVV

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Shruti Bakshi

Shruti Bakshi is the Founder of the LivingWise Project. She has worked for several years in banking and financial services in London, Paris and Mumbai and holds an MBA (INSEAD) and MPhil in Finance (Cambridge). She is also a certified Hatha yoga instructor. Shruti writes about life at the intersection of spirituality and modern society. Her debut novel ‘From Dior to Dharma’ was released in May 2017.


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6 Replies to “Why business school grads are wired for misery: Part 1”

  1. yogibanker

    Hi Shruti, interesting post and as we share similar backgrounds, let me give you my opinion. First, I hear you about ego. Working in the corporate world is all about ego. People define themselves by it, the title, the money they earn and their perceived status in society. Its false, delusional and creates a false sense of happiness, because there is the constant craving for more titles, more wealth and more status etc.. However, what I would say is that there is a strong sense of personal achievement working in the corporate world – the challenges it brings, the problems to solve and the personal development along the way. I see all the short sighted stuff in the banking world, but I see that there is something deeper about working in these industries, that wire people to achieve.

    Secondly, with the notion of self, I think that everyone has a story. Story telling is a means of influencing and engaging with people. It gets people’s attention – that is what the author of the article is trying to get it. Cold hard facts about a person or what they are trying to explain won’t get anywhere – people switch off. Story telling then is actually one of the most effective means of communication. I learnt this recently on a course. I think what you are trying to say is that people have this self defined notion about their own self, which is grounded in “maya” or “emptiness”, which only serves to create an artificial sense of self-esteem and happiness, which is not permanent, but rather temporary. I agree with that. I think though you can be a ‘nobody’ in the corporate world, but at the same time, you have to sell your brand to progress at the same time too. There’s definitely room for spirituality in the corporate world, but its your approach and self-wareness of your own attitudes and beliefs that is the difference.

    Thanks for the contribution! Best, Scott

    • Shruti Bakshi

      Hi Scott,

      Thanks for your views! It’s always valuable to hear the opinions of others from the industry who think about these things.

      Re the second point, I do agree with what you’re saying about the need to have a story/brand for practical purposes and I think that’s very valid (as probably wasn’t clear from my post). But like you say, it needs a certain level of awareness to ensure that you don’t end up believing in your own stories as your true self but instead use them only for societal/corporate purposes. I think this understanding is in general something that is lacking and we need to work to consciously bring it into our lives.

      Regarding your point that the industry offers avenues for personal development and growth – that’s true but then I don’t think it’s more special than other industries for that. I think that anyone following a line of work that they are passionate about, will grow and feel a sense of accomplishment when they are successful. But actually, I have a more basic problem here which is with regarding performance at jobs as providing any kind of personal value. My personal opinion is that when one goes around deriving personal value from the results of actions, we are asking for trouble sooner or later. Sure you may be very successful for a number of years but then lose your job one day and with it, your sense of accomplishment, self worth etc. Or you may feel a sense of accomplishment temporarily (since temporariness seems to be the nature of such accomplishment) but then you want the next thing, then the next and on and on until you realise you’re running on a hamster wheel. As goes one of the teachings of the Gita, it’s best not to attach yourself to the fruits of action but rather just do your best at whatever you happen to be doing, which is hopefully something you really enjoy doing. And so in that sense, no job should be regarded as better than another in terms of impact on you as a person (of course, wealth, status, etc) may differ.

      Those are my personal views but of course, I’m still a student of life and other views are always thought-provoking and enlightening and so very welcome!

      Best,
      Shruti

      • yogibanker

        Hi Shruti, interesting views! I haven’t really read the Gita so I’ll leave that to the more enlightened. I think accomplishment is a personal thing, I feel in my role now that I am performing at a very high level, compared to when I joined the bank knowing nothing. I look back at that with some pride. Maybe that pride is delusional since as you say, it is merely temporary, but this job has given me some job satisfaction as well as a lifestyle I could only dream of. In fact, I visualised it, and here it became…

        I am now stuck in the middle wanting to break out and make my blog something big, but I keep getting sucked back into the corporate world again on these artificial highs of deal making, decision taking and complex analysis…., with its artificial sense of contentment. Perhaps I really need to dig deeper and go find myself, really exposed to the elements! I guess that is where real spiritual progress is made. Having said that, I am happy for the life I have created, its hard for me to let go of that when you are happy most of the time… 🙂 Scott

  2. Shruti Bakshi

    Hi Scott,
    Thanks for sharing your experiences to which I can relate very well! 🙂
    I’d say I’m very far from enlightened but I’m trying to learn what my life is trying to teach me…which I guess is in the form of a different lesson for everyone.

    It’s great that you are happy and feel a sense of satisfaction with your job. I guess our desires exist to push us towards our life’s purpose and to help us know ourselves. All of that is great and contributes to growth. I also hear you about the highs and the intellectual satisfaction of working in banking. Success is sweet, no doubt and it’s not at odds with being spiritual at all. But speaking for myself, I found that I couldn’t always enjoy success. It felt momentary and came with stress and a fear of loss. I just felt like there is something I need to understand. And when I looked around me, I saw so many people that had good things going for them but they were miserable with some stress or the other.

    I suppose the goal is to be happy, yes, especially if you can be happy through both good and bad situations. I know I’m not there yet! I recently reached that point, like you say, of being stuck in the middle of wanting to keep the paycheck/lifestyle and also wanting to devote more time to spirituality. I chose a sabbatical! They do say that the best time to make changes is when things are going well…like it’s easier to follow a particular diet when you are healthy rather than when you are ill. But I’m sure a balance between the two is also possible to achieve if you do love your day job…
    Cheers,
    Shruti

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