Running on Empty

imageLast night one felt some satisfaction, but more than that one felt happy.

Back some thirty plus years ago, I used to handle Unilever’s treasury. It was one of my first assignments in that huge machine, which excelled at absorbing us humans into its folds. I used to regularly deal with a banker, who stood out as a human being. He was in senior career (having the Unilever account, must have been a status definer) and so could have acted the part. However, so transpired that he acted very normal, laughed, joked and guided me in my early days of learning banking stuff. I found that status and professional success had not defined him. He was himself, no frills.

I note this, because it has been my observation, that status and symbolism gets into our heads very easily. At a fairly young stage, our executives tend to play a certain role. Perhaps they do it because they are ‘expected to’, but more likely it is because they feel they have gained consequence. This cocoon which acquires us, begins to define us and tell tale signs become visible quickly. Having watched it for more than three decades, I can tell you, it owns the vast majority of us.

It begins with the feeling that ‘I am right’. Such a simple statement, but such disastrous results. Then it graduates into a more self propagating mode of ‘I know better’. Subsequently, it shuts down our listening skills. By the time a person has reached mid career (mid 30s), these habits are already ingrained in us. Once you are not listening, you quickly start talking more. This then gives you more consequence. You feel you know, because so few are telling you their version. It becomes a vicious circle and self fulfilling and makes you more diseased at each iteration. Soon the dinosaur is devouring many and hurting plenty. Till disaster strikes one day for whatever reason and the edifice you stand on collapses. And just for the people who do not realize it, the end happens in all cases. Our lives always descend into nothingness. You then realise you have been running on empty.

So to get back to my source of happiness, after a long digression. Some 30 years on, I met the same banker last night. Much aged, comparatively, but he still looked well. The same smile, same physical posture but more importantly, same demeanour. This was the same heart I once knew and appreciated. He even treated me the same. Oh, he knew, had followed my history and the various worldly successes. But, I tell you he treated me exactly as he treated that young manager decades ago. Still more typical of this person. His words. “I have been retired a long time now. Really enjoyed it. So much to do in life. No reason to miss work. I am busy with stuff all the time.”

Allah bless him. It re-invigorated my faith in humanity. Some can still be good and real. They do not have to impress anyone, are happy in themselves, and everything has its place and right value. Nothing really is above goodness and happiness. Some of us go to ‘art of happiness classes’. I learnt it in a few minutes conversing with a genuine human.

To all the young people out there. Enjoy your work and its benefits, but please do not let it own you. Be yourself, the genuine you, do not inflate yourself into a hot air balloon. Do not run after goal posts you will never catch. You will be much the better at the end, by just living. Enjoy it!

* picture is from


About sarfarazar
I have been lucky! A long career with large scale organisations and some acclaim. Also, took time off to write, mentor and do some education and social development projects. I continue to mentor and help younger people in life. Inshallah, hope to write on various subjects in my blog.

4 Responses to Running on Empty

  1. Muhammad says:

    Loved your honest words “And just for the people who do not realize it, the end happens in all cases. Our lives always descend into nothingness. You then realise you have been running on empty”. I always wonder why it takes a man to reach at the pinnacle of wealth and his entire life-time to realize that real richness is richness of soul. Why it takes us to become Warrent Buffett or mark zuckerberg to realize that we will feel truly fulfilled by donating almost all of our money; Why we forget that often a child’s smile seems more sincere than a board-room theatrics.

    I am not an expert on above topic, but I think that it has got to do with Capitalism. The hunger of Few Rich people for bringing more & more profits & +ve CAGR, shapes the executives to be cold blooded and hard-headed, even to the extent that consumers also become the part of Cash Flow Cycle. (e.g. If people are not eating more fast food burger of some brand, then how to make them eat more…to bring more revenues….even if it goes against their own health). So, in a sense the community habits & demographics are shaped by the corporate sector, eventually making people accept their identity as “hungry,insecure & dissatisfied” consumers. ( lets look at any AD of any beauty cream)

    Victor Frankl asserts on human need to have meaning in life. Tony Robbins says that there is a science of achievement and there is an art of fulfillment (2 separate things) and fulfillment comes from Giving .

    The kind of society we are looking at (& we wish to grow for few capitalists) i.e. “Hungry & dissatisfied Consumers” they can never be Givers and hence, never be fulfilled from their lives.

    I am in the profession of marketing & was ambitious to give people “choti choti khushiyan” but was shocked to realize that in essence my real job is to make people uncomfortable from what they already have and find the solution in the offered product. This is quite the opposite of giving happiness & embracing people for what they really are.

    • sarfarazar says:

      That is a long comment. But quite insightful. Unforunately todays marketing is a lot about expansion of needs. I too have been involved in just such an area…have endeavoured to find a route around it. The only real sincerity I could bring to this was that the business is adding value net to society. In my last case of EFL that opening up of rural areas, some prosperity at the lower levels, education in rural etc were indirect justifications.
      Suffice to say, wisdom comes slowly and is a gathering. It is generally true Prophets and reformers came after the age of 40. I guess one is now trying to pass on any gathered wisdom.

  2. Khan says:

    This vicious circle is being promoted every where. What we are taught is to speak speak and speak, make your voice or rather noise louder enough so nobody else could be heard.If only an iota of attention could be invest in skills of listening, respecting and understanding people around.
    May be I am wrong but what I have observed people are designed to become an insecure entity and then this entity seeks security by making others insecure.Another vicious cycle.

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