Before happiness in the workplace was a thing, and hashtags like #mindfulness and #worklifebalance trended on social media, there was one man who pushed the boundaries of being happy at work — he’s been on the train for decades.
His MBA course is the only one of its kind to have its very own alumni. You read that right. It was a business class — with alumni.
The Creativity and Personal Mastery (CPM) course revolves around the vast potential that the human mind has. By learning to harness its power, you can reach a deeper understanding of your goals to discover what is or isn’t worth attaining.
The Creative and Personal Mastery course balances both eastern and western philosophies, which expands on the idea that you can reach a deep psychological and spiritual awareness, at the same time become the successful Elon Musk of your field. Learning to be a great leader is the key to greatness. Students are also taught quality leadership skills and business management to accelerate their personal and professional growth.
By reaching the state of mind achieved through the course, you’ll uncover your extreme confidence, your purpose for existence, and you'll find yourself shifting paradigms through your life, career, love, environment, and potentially, the universe. By completing this course, you are, in a sense, graduating from a Life Mastery Institute.
Let me tell you why Srikumar Rao matters — and always will. Our interview began with his journey to happiness and overcoming adversities, but it ended with a moment of vulnerability where we discussed society’s struggle with inner peace. Srikumar Rao said to me in his soft and friendly voice,
“What you have to do is recognize that happiness is within you.
You should do what you do from that source of happiness
as opposed to, 'If I do it, I will become happy.'
This is how it becomes positively me-centered, and not me-centered.
Take action with joy, without expecting your efforts to reciprocate joy.
Does that make sense?”
That’s when the facts dawned: This revolutionary thinker and powerful speaker has tapped into living a fulfilling life across all dimensions — career, relationships, and spiritual development. Dr. Rao just might be the best person to explain our times and outlook on life to us.
A Meeting With "Yoda"
The screen changed from blank to display a man with a soft demeanor looking for something in front of him. It appears that he was getting the knobs and keys of his computer to run right, while I mirrored him on my side of the world. Much like him, I was also gathering my bearings before we started our formal greetings. It was 9 in the morning where he was from, while I was 12 hours ahead. I recognized the luxury of speaking across time and space with him. So I mentally prepared myself for virtual transcendence.
For the man is Srikumar Rao. THE Srikumar Rao.
It was "Yoda" — in the flesh — wearing a flowered shirt.
Like I needed another reason to be a fan.
Later, I learned that "Yoda" was no alien. For he too has fallen, risen, and ridden the tidal wave of life. He just figured out a way to do it with a smile and a good laugh, which made everything he said that much more powerful and real.
“I had this feeling that somehow or other life passed me by.
Everybody is successful, and I failed…”
— Srikumar Rao on his happiness journey
Srikumar Rao enjoyed a successful career in corporate America and ended up with a burnout by corporate politics. Frustrated and exhausted, he decided to move to academia thinking a university environment wouldn’t have political dramas like the ones he suffered. He was gravely mistaken.
The man was down, but not beaten. It was during his teaching days when he came up with a brilliant idea to merge learnings from the world’s greatest masters and deliver them to the world. He began to strip their teachings off of religious, cultural, and other connotations in order to adapt them for intelligent people in a post-industrial society on the path to personal mastery.
“The thought of doing something like that made me come alive.” There was a glimmer of excitement in his eyes as soon as he said that.
When he first started, he felt like a fraud, teaching others to use the lessons of the great masters, when he hadn't quite figured it out himself. Ever the optimist, he thought, “We’ll learn it together and battle our way through.” Sure enough, the "Creativity and Personal Mastery" course was a hit. It wasn’t until he brought it to Columbia Business school in 1999 that it exploded into what it is today. His initial prediction was correct. From CEOs to fresh graduates, the great masters’ universal principles changed lives and indeed sparked creativity and personal mastery.
His job became clear to him. We think we needed to be challenged to be proven great, but it was the other way around. As an educator, he came to challenge his students so that they understand the power of ideas. And that became the definitive turning point that changed his life.
Yoda had figured out how to channel the force and teach his apprentices.
“I really love what I do. I personally get excited about it. The knowledge that so many people are being helped. Most importantly, the improvements that happen in their lives spread out to a much broader population — all around their web of connections.” His story was like the ripple effect in space; it was exactly what gets his gears running first thing in the morning.
Dr. Rao has long been interested in philosophy and metaphysics, but he kept it to himself thinking no one else cared to share his interests. He carried on conducting his courses the way he thought would be recognized as practical and relevant. He was surprised to learn he was wrong.
“There is a deep hunger in the human spirit. People are interested in knowing more. “Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? What is it all about? And the more I delve into the topics, the more fascinated they become.”
So what does he have to say to all aspiring Jedi Masters of the world as they embark on their life as CEOs, activists, a student of life, and the likes?
“You are a free spirit.
And whatever I can do to help you
recognize that this is your true nature,
that is my life purpose.”
I immediately got on board.
4 Principles For An Amazing Day
For someone who preached happiness at work, you’d be surprised that there is also enough karmic baggage dragging Dr. Rao down like the rest of us. Like the wonderful Ramana Maharshi analogy, he observes life like a child trying to walk for the first time.
The child cries and cries again until one moment, they pick themselves up and walk on. Soon, they’re walking and running everywhere. Ironically, a lot of adults seem to think they’re in a crisis every other time they fall.
So, these 4 Principles of An Amazing Day have helped Srikumar Rao get up again, and continue walking toward personal mastery— they can help anyone to do this, actually.
#1 – Happiness is a Choice
“I believe that you are as happy as you decide to be.” Srikumar Rao said, sharing his first daily rule. “At the end of the day, it’s not that something happens to you and you become unhappy, but it’s because you made a choice; often without recognizing that you chose it.”
#2 – We Construct Our World in Our Mind
Dr. Rao's second principle is a mantra for the mind. The world that we live in is not a real world, but a construct. “We created it with our mental chatter and models. If we don’t like any part of it, we can deconstruct the parts and build it up again.” Remind yourself that your mind has power unlike any other; knowing this is a key component to reaching personal mastery.
#3 – Ask Yourself to be Creative Every Day
Srikumar Rao enjoys illustrating his ideas through analogies, so he often asks himself as a general rule, “What is it that I can do creatively that makes me come alive?” Boosting your creativity is key. Here was a man who was walking the walk, and talking the talk.
#4 – Appreciate Everyone Around You and Help Them Grow
“There’s one step I haven’t implemented as much because I want to do it consciously,” he admitted to me. “The people close to me, and everyone involved in my life have I done anything each day to let them know how much I appreciate them? I’d like to do something to help them grow. This is something I should be doing. I intend to do this going forward.”
His honesty isn’t something I can describe with words. His willingness to open up and share his growing pains with someone who has still much to learn from him is a personality trait every leader should emulate.
My respect for Srikumar Rao deepened yet again.
Accept That Death, Anger, & Anxiety Are A Part Of Life
Our conversation took a turn towards a subject most wouldn’t discuss in parallel with happiness. But without darkness, there is no light.
Dr. Rao opened up on the two last occasions that made him cry, which was the passing of both his father and their family dog. He wasn’t present on both occasions, but the events affected him more than he could say.
“Death is simply a part of life,
and we shouldn’t be looking at it as bad.
The tears came but at the same time,
there was also a sense of fullness.
I celebrated their life, but I also mourned their passing.
Simply accept that we’re all on this journey
— a journey of growth.”
For a moment, I became somber, recalling the death of a friend and wondering aloud how I should feel happy at the thought of death.
Srikumar Rao looked at me and said in his wise-old voice, “Don’t feel happy at the thought. We recognize we don’t know what death is. Your friend who passed has finished what he had to do, and you wish him well. What you’re going to do and the thing that helps is to celebrate the times you had together. Celebrate the life more than you mourn the passing. You never really grieve for someone, you always grieve for yourself. Remember that.”
I was in awe. Srikumar Rao took my vulnerable moment and transformed it into something whole — an answer that bridges the gap in a void only mourners can understand. The feeling of loss we both shared was real. Just as real as pain and loss are, so is a true appreciation for life.
Like death, lingering thoughts of doubts and fears are enough to cause one grievance. For Srikumar Rao, he concluded many years ago, that if he let life get him down for any reason, then it is what he deserves. Ever since then, he’s been the happy chap he is today.
The mental switch he made revolved around the thought that it’s not a problem in our life right now if things don’t go the way we would like them to. Look at the universe and ask instead, “Is there a lesson for me to learn here?” Once the lesson is learned, pick up and move on.
Because these emotional reactions, like anger and anxiety, are all part of the human condition and the best way to deal with them (and continue the path of personal mastery), as Dr. Rao explained, was to observe them.
"It’s not to be angry but observing yourself
getting angry and being angry. "
“Imagine you’re an invisible entity suspended above your head, and you’re looking back to say, “[Your Name] is getting really angry now. Her face is turning red; her voice is rising. She’s probably going to say something she’s going to regret.” Observe neutrally — Be the witness without judgment. You’ll find that the emotions become less intense," Dr. Rao explains.
It also helps to take ten very deep, very slow abdominal breaths whenever you’re in the grip of strong emotions.
It sounds easier said than done, and I failed to grasp his technique the first time he explained it. It wasn’t until after I endured a trying experience that I recalled Dr. Rao’s friendly face asking me to breathe and observe my emotion when I suddenly found myself a lot calmer. It helps to imagine an Indian Yoda asking you to take a chill pill.
Root Yourself To Your Well-Being, Because You’re Okay
The obsession of scrolling through everybody else’s show reel has essentially turned everyone into a comparison machine. I couldn’t pass the opportunity of asking him about his thoughts on social media.
Srikumar Rao began by saying sorry — for human beings have proven yet again that we are capable of taking something which could be good and making it a weapon of destruction.
There is a large percentage of people who are dragging themselves to work, hating every second of their day. It is to some degree a form of social acceptance to commit to a job they hate while comparing their lives to others on social media.
”It’s exactly why we do the things we dislike
and like the things we never seem to do.”
The world is mentally and culturally divided on the idea of happiness. Most define it through momentary feelings of pleasure that are relatively trivial. The answer to “Are you happy?” shouldn’t revolve around the latest element you’ve added to your catalog.
He looked serious. Dr. Rao, in all his years of discussing happiness, understood social media’s impact and how it has shifted people’s outlook on life. Something as trivial as sharing a photo or 140 characters could really affect someone’s happiness level.
“The answer to “Are you happy?”
should root to your sense of well-being.
Ask instead, “Where am I today?
Where was I yesterday?
Am I progressing in the right direction?
What can I do to accelerate my growth?”
That’s the only thing you should be concerned about.”
“Don’t get too hung up on your drama. Don’t spend too much time crying over all the nasty things that have happened to you. Whatever happened, happened. Pick it up and move on because even when things are happening, underneath it all say, “I’m okay, and I’ll always be okay.””
A Message To Humankind
We turned our conversation towards the subject about humanity and borders. With all that’s going on in the world, we’re feeling more and more distant from each other as institutions keep building higher walls. Needless to say, the political climate around the world isn’t looking too peachy right now. And that’s when Dr. Rao shared one of the best advice he received yet.
His colleague, Marshall Goldsmith, once said to him “Srikumar, are you prepared at this minute to devote enough of your time to make a significant difference to the issue you talked about? If yes, do it. If no, let it go.” So, the next time politics, work, or even your partner gets you worked up, give a “yes” or “no” answer to the question.
In the middle of our laughs, I jokingly asked him to send a message to an advanced alien race to see what quirky answer he’d say. Instead, in true "Yoda"-style, he said “Please be gentle, and teach us what we need to know. But don’t destabilize us on our journey.” Wise words. Let’s hope the Siths are okay with that when they come over.
We carried the discussion over to talking about humankind. Dr. Rao's message moved me so powerfully; I couldn’t say anything for a moment. He didn’t say love one another, stop the fights, or give peace a chance. He didn’t have to.
"Yoda" summed everything up into one simple word - Freedom.
“Your nature is freedom.
Recognize it in yourself and help others to see it within themselves too.
All of the boundaries we have are self-imposed limitations;
they are constraints that we have created.
Deep down, you and I are both the same spirit bound up in different bodies.
As long as we identify with our bodies,
there is a sense of separation.
It’s a role that you and I are playing,
but one day all of these roles will drop off.
And that’s fine because there’s something deeper between that.
That’s the level at which you’re going to establish your connection.
And when you do, you’ll be enriched,
and you will enrich the lives of everyone else.”
Once you have reached a state of inner peace and freedom (what you can attain from graduating this type of Life Mastery Institute), you’ll be able to transcend all man-made borders - even your own. Only then will you truly be able to connect with it all and everything that comes with it.
Your Happiness Journey Starts Within
Srikumar Rao has met so many people from all walks of life who came up to him to say, “I don’t see why I should give to be happy. I’ve done it my whole life. I’m tired of living for others.”
The “selfless” quote of, “I’m living for others,” is not as honest as many would like to think. It’s an honestly self-serving, me-centered thought, because what it truly means is there's a cultural stereotype of what a person (insert your “role” here - father/daughter/, etc.) has to do. Therefore, to be respected, you did what you think you had to do.
In reality, this mental model robs you and the person you’re living for of happiness. Neither of you is happy because the action didn’t come from joy. It came from a sense of obligation. Dr. Rao emphasized his point once more,
“Recognize that happiness is within you.”
Turn the table around and recall a time when someone made you feel instantly happy. This selfless action of asking, “Are you happy? How can I help you make your day better,” is the catalyst to turn anyone’s life around, including yours.
“Go out, make somebody’s day,
and do it every day.”
Happiness is a real journey, and it takes hard work to deconstruct a long-standing structure of negative mental models. Srikumar Rao endured enough hardships to flick the switch in his mindset so he’d permanently see the bright side of life.
We talked a little bit more about his personal life. He smiled and said he hadn't changed much since his younger days. He shared with me that his interests still lie in making the world a better place. Heroic, to say the least. But he can stand today to say that he has found a way to do it.
His family would say about him “The man is so helpful and kind. He’s hardly ever depressed and so good natured he’ll be bringing everybody’s spirits up!”
But even for the man who’s hardwired for happiness, he’s not without his quirks and faults. Dr. Rao is someone who isn’t so quick to catch on to the little things in life. Srikumar Rao gleefully smiled as he told me a little story involving his wife and her tulips a little while back.
For someone living in his internal world, he was one of those fellows who simply walks past his garden and straight to the house without thinking much of it. But not long after, his wife called after him, “Did you see the beautiful tulips?” He paused, turned around, and said, “No.”
He hadn’t realized his wife had planted a beautiful garden, no matter how many times he had walked up and down that path. His wife knew this. He laughed out loud and walked back towards them.
The tulips were in bloom. Surely not something that can be easily missed. But he’s grateful for his wife for pointing them out to him.
Would this be considered a failure? He acknowledges it’s a weird quirk of his. But he continues with an anecdote about life and overcoming mountains because he’s not one to spend his time thinking about how far away he is from the idea of attaining success. All he aims to think about is the potential.
“Let me get there to the extent that I can. And in the process of getting there, let me celebrate the fact that I’m getting closer as opposed to, you know, beat myself up for whatever it is. Because each day has to be joyful, because if not, what’s the point?”
If happiness were a national currency, you’d know this man would be filthy rich.
His spirit is free.
Tulips in the garden or not, he already has tulips in his mind.
This article was written by Khadijah Hayati Patawari
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