Life Mantra: Learning, Earning and Returning

Raj Asava with volunteers and participants of the Hunger Mitao program.
Raj Asava (standing, second left) with volunteers and participants of the HungerMitao program.

By Raj Gopal Asava

Human life is but a series of experiences – make the most of it through the Life Mantra.

We can all agree with the old adage “life doesn’t come with an instruction manual.” However, there is a perfect “Life Mantra”, which can be used to live a blissful and close to perfect life.

Now, no one knows where we came from or what lies ahead after our time on this planet comes to an end. All we know is that we are here and we need to live out our life; with no clear purpose or a guide to living our lives.

That is until now. Through this article, I share with you Life Mantra, which I credit to transforming my thought process about how to approach and enjoy a blissfully satisfactory life.

I came across this mantra early during this decade when I had the good fortune of listening to a discourse by Shri Siddheshwer Brahmrishi Gurudev Guruvanand. A learned and holy man, he eloquently talked about life’s struggles and shared three magical words that caused me to reflect and rethink the way I was living my life. A human life, he said, is best lived through three stages: Learning, Earning and Returning. These three simple words had a strangely calming and uplifting effect on me.

The more I reflected on this and applied it to my own life, I came to a self-realization that these stages are not to be viewed as sequential, with one stage starting when other ends. Rather, they overlap each other playing the role of major and minor focus as one goes through the wonderful journey of life.

The 80/20 Rule:

Having fulfilled our professional aspirations and familial responsibilities, my wife and I currently find ourselves in the third stage of our lives. We have accumulated so much over the years: lessons learned, knowledge accumulated, resources and networks built, none of which will go with us when the times comes for us to checkout from this planet.

In our Returning stage in life, it would be best if we could employ this treasure chest, which we built during the earlier two stages, for the betterment of the next generation and to return back to the communities that have shaped and nurtured us over the years.

As such, finding effective ways of returning has become a major focus of our lives. But that does not mean we have stopped learning or earning. We use the 80/20 rule to these three stages. While 80% of our time and resources is committed to returning back, the remaining time is focused on continuous learning to stay relevant, and towards steady earning to ensure our nest egg investments continue to deliver as planned for us to be able to enjoy our golden years.

Raj Asava and his wife, Aradhana, who founded the HungerMitao initiative.
Raj Asava and his wife, Aradhana, who founded the HungerMitao initiative.

The Three Stages

Learning: A wholesome Learning stage enables an individual to discover their interests, passions, strengths, and accumulate knowledge which prepares and propels them into to the next stage of life.

From the time a child is born through his/her early stages of adulthood, the dominant focus is, and should be on learning. With sponge-like characteristics, a child soaks in information from its surroundings: environment, family, community, travel, experiences, in addition to formal education. Lifelong habits, attitudes, sense of limitation, and biases are formed during this time.

With development of the core being the primary focus during these formative years, learning is also the stage to teach the child about strong work ethic, as well as provide them with early opportunities to earn money, teaching them the value of hard and honest work. Similarly, compassion, the sense of responsibility towards the community, should be inculcated at this age through experiences of volunteering, embedding the sentiment of giving back in everything we do. Very often we hear people say, “someday, when I have enough, I will give”. But giving is not a switch that can just be turned on. The sense of compassion and philanthropy must be nurtured from an early stage.

As Brian Herbert said, “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.” Choose to learn and you will find that it will provide a solid foundation for you to build on during the Earning stage – as one gets ready to change the world!

Earning: Spring boarding from the Learning stage, an individual explores material options in the Earning stage of life and becoming an active contributor to the society.

Responsibilities increase in this stage as a home environment is established and extended family obligations grow. Wealth creation becomes a necessity while proving oneself to their peers entrepreneurially or in climbing the corporate/social ladder becomes a passion. A big house, nicer cars, name-brand clothes and exotic travel are some of the many material experiences that are typically sought in this stage. Warren Buffet eloquently puts it, “Money is not everything. Make sure you earn a lot before speaking such nonsense.” Afterall the more you are able to earn, the better you will be able to provide for yourself and your family.

READ MORE: Indian Americans raise over 610,000 meals for New Yorkers in need  (March 25, 2019)

One should, however, not focus only on earning in this stage. Continuous learning/reskilling is key to succeed in the material world. Returning also should start in earnest whether it is giving through skill and knowledge, influence, time or resources. This is the stage to identify causes that matter to oneself and discovering the best ways to support them. Philanthropy starts to take on a deeper meaning.

When learning is done in a manner where one discovers his or her natural talents as well as passion, and effectively channels them to make a livelihood through personal interests – Earning could be a highly satisfying stage.

Returning: In due time, the focus shifts again. An awareness of mortality creeps in. Thoughts of personal impact and legacy building invade just about every individual. If planned properly, this stage of Returning can be most meaningful and fulfilling. This is the stage to lighten the load!

By the time personal and family responsibilities are fulfilled, and enough has been earned and saved for retired life, a mental shift takes place for most people. With mortality in sight, we start to think about distribution of everything accumulated: wealth, knowledge, experiences, etc. Although much is usually passed on to kids and family, some fortunate ones begin to think of society as their family and engage in non-familial philanthropy. Depending on the success of previous stages, this is when many establish family foundations, hoping their resources outlive them and that their children continue the tradition of giving. The Returning stage can truly be magical and impactful. In the words of Khalil Gibran, “All you have shall someday be given. Therefore, give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors.”

The Returning stage becomes an amalgamation of the previous two, with a distinct focus on returning, while learning to stay current and relevant, and earning as needed to return and live out the golden years take on a minority but important role in life.

Reflection / Closing thoughts

I have found Life Mantra to be immensely helpful in my journey of life. And as I see it, the three stages are not distinctly separate. For a human life to be progressively fulfilling, these stages must be viewed as interdependent and tightly intertwined, with each stage preparing and serving as a springboard into the next.

Returning, interestingly, should also be used to prepare oneself for the end of life and returning back to wherever we came from. While no one can say with any authority what lies beyond, another focus of Returning stage should be to lighten our life by removing expectations, letting go of any grudges, simplifying, contemplation; in essence freeing oneself from this material world, and preparing for something larger than the cause-and-effect and the material rules we live under.

If one can use the Life Mantra to not only guide them through the maze of life, but to also shed their societal biases, grudges and expectations from others on a path to simplified life; the outcome clearly would be a series of highly satisfying and blissful experiences. Afterall what is human life, but a series of experiences – make the most of it through the Life mantra!

(Raj and his wife Aradhana (Anna) Asava retired from the corporate world to dedicate their time, energy and resources to help fight food insecurity. They started the HungerMitao movement which has enabled over 30 million meals for food challenged children, seniors, veterans and families across the United States of America. You can learn more about this grass roots movement at


Colleen Brinkmann: Creating food security, one relationship at a time (February 15, 2019)

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