On December 18, 2016, my parents celebrated the 25th anniversary of Totla Hospital. It has been a long and impressive journey for them, starting out from literally nothing when they arrived in Aurangabad, to having built a very successful and highly respected hospital in the city. To celebrate this anniversary, they had organized a grand function, inviting a lot of former patients, friends, family, and others out of the gigantic community they’ve built during this time.

A few weeks prior, I was asked to speak at the event. Several people in the city know me due to some good exam results from 2008 that got a lot of publicity, though I have always found it hard to deal with the attention. As a result, I’ve often overcompensated and vehemently opposed anything that would draw similar attention to me. Besides, I always maintained that good exam results are down to a lot of luck, and mine were too long in the past anyway. So while my first reaction was to protest the fact that I even had to speak at the event, I later decided that this was a rare opportunity to engage with the people of Aurangabad (the event was expected to have 1500 attendees!) and put forward my point of view. It took me some days to come up with the key points, and roughly a day to write them down.

The expectation was that I’d say something motivational, given all my “success”. Instead, I decided to talk about things I personally feel strongly about, including questioning what success means. Here’s my original draft of the speech. The actual transcript differs slightly because I improvised on stage, but it sticks to the outline.

Speech Outline

Good evening everyone, my name is Nishant Totla, and I’m the son of Dr Rajgopal Totla and Santosh Totla. Today I’m going to talk about how I think about success, looking at the past. I wanted to say something motivational, but I think it is far more important to talk about what success means and the factors behind it, before trying to motivate others towards it.

I’ll only talk for 10 minutes, but my talk is meant for young students aspiring to be successful, and their parents who want to support them.

So what does success look like? We’ve all seen what it looks like in the newspapers. You know, people see all these flashy results, or news about how some kid out of college is getting a huge salary, and wonder if they’re being left behind. Well let me tell you this – news like this is meant to deceive, not inform. It hides all the other factors that are involved in becoming a successful person. I have done well enough in the last few years that many people consider me successful. But from my point of view, looking back, here is what I think contributes to success. There are, broadly speaking, four things:

  • Hard work
  • Luck
  • Privilege
  • (and to some extent, talent)

[I define what each of them mean]

Notice that the only thing in your hands, is hard work. Successful people often downplay the role of other things in their success, and they are often as important as hard work. Don’t let any successful person tell you they were not lucky.

I’ll give you an example. When my parents arrived in Aurangabad a long time ago to start Totla Hospital, they came with no money and support, just a strong desire to start practicing and serve people. They did not have the privilege of a comfortable familiar place, or financial backing. But they worked really hard, and were fortunate to be supported by some amazing people in this journey, which makes them as successful as they are today.

In my own case, I had everything one can ask for – I worked very hard, I was lucky in many places (like not falling sick at the wrong times), and I was very privileged because my parents supported me at every step, despite all the inconvenience it caused them. I could not have achieved anything without support from them, the hospital staff, family, and friends.

When I went to college, I met some people who had nothing like what I had. There were people from really poor families, or very unfortunate circumstances, who worked really hard to get there, and did well in life.

I was born in Aurangabad, and grew up here for a good part of my life. I’ve heard a lot of times that our region lacks infrastructure and awareness for our youth to be successful. I agree that we still have a lot of catching up to do, and it will happen with time. But with the above points, my message to all of you who hold aspirations to be successful is this – remember that situations will never be perfect. You will probably not get all these things, and the only thing you can do is to be sincere in your efforts and work hard. The rest is not always in your control. To the parents, my message is that if your kids fail despite hard work, recognize that many other factors are involved, and don’t blame them right away. Their talents might be elsewhere, or they might have just been unlucky.

And now I will move on to the second part – what is success?

When I was younger, I used to believe that doing well in school was success. Then I believed doing well in competitive examinations, and getting into a good college was success. Then I thought getting a good job was success. But after all those things, and some more experience, I want to say that these things are not as important as we think. Yes they help, and we must work hard towards them, but they don’t define us. Lot of people in good colleges end up unsuccessful, and many remarkable people in the world did not go to a very good college.

When I look at what my parents have achieved, they have no doubt built and done a lot of great things over the last 25 years. But the most important thing that I believe makes them successful is their kindness and compassion for their patients. When so many patients speak highly of them, it is not because they have great education and degrees. It is because they understand people’s pain, empathize with them, and they are kind. In the long term, it is these qualities that will give you a lot more success and happiness, than just things on paper. Right now, when I think about what I want to do in the future, it is always related to how I can help people – especially those are are poor, or lack privilege. Look at so many rich people (such as Bill Gates), who end up living very modest lives and help others through philanthropy.

As a society, we need to start telling people that it is not only these fancy achievements that make a person successful and useful to society. The will to help people around us, and kindness are extremely underrated qualities that should be cultivated from a young age. Let us stop narrowly defining what success means, and instead focus on what we can do to become happy and satisfied with our lives. I cannot tell you how to achieve that, because you must find it for yourself. What I can tell you though, is to work hard, and not get caught up in narrow definitions of success.

Ummmm

I know, probably sounds like one of those cheesy speeches that doesn’t really say anything actionable (because it is!), but it was my first attempt at putting these ideas out there. More selfishly, I have started relishing the opportunity to speak publicly, thanks partly to my job that has given me several chances to present my work.

I had the outline on my phone!

I have become much more comfortable and confident on stage, and have begun treating each occasion like an exciting opportunity to be enjoyed, rather than a scary challenge to overcome.

- nRT