The Prince was born in the lap of luxury, adored by the world, and mentored by the greatest teachers. He wasn’t meant to be the king – such political positions were too trivial for him. His destiny wasn’t to sit on the throne, it was to conquer other thrones.
The Driver had a son too – not one that his wife gave birth to, but one who was found discarded and unwanted by the real mother.
Every day of his life he was reminded that it was his destiny to be a driver just like his father. He was to drive the king’s chariot to battle and ensure his glorious victories.
The Prince and the Driver’s son – they both craved the same thing. To be a warrior like none before or after their time. For the Prince it was his promised birthright, for the Driver’s son it was his purpose in life.
Their paths were sure to cross one day. They were destined to become bitter rivals. Vanquishing the other became their single-minded motivation and they pushed their limits to attain skills beyond their age.
While Prince Arjuna trained under Dronacharya, the Chariot Driver’s son Karna suffered lesser teachers. Until he found Parshurama, who was originally Dronacharya’s teacher. Now with the quality of education becoming the same, the focus on their goals never wavering and their individual destinies almost set in stone – they blinded themselves to a world beyond each other’s existence.
When the final battle of Mahabharata was fought, they both commanded their armies. They both killed thousands of enemies, but deep down they were in it only to defeat each other.
They were leaders in every sense of the word. They inspired unconnected allies to fight against an equally disjointed foe. They were both such accomplished warriors themselves that their followers aspired to be like them too. They both prepared for the war for decades but didn’t rush into it.
There is a lot to learn from both of them. Arjuna was an arrogant brat, Karna was a humble soul. Arjuna got everything he desired, Karna had to fight for everything he wanted. Arjuna pranced along on a rosy road, Karna‘s feet bled on thorns at every step he took. Arjuna was the Prince, Karna was the Driver’s son.
But when all is said and done, they are both equally matched. My point isn’t to show how different they are. On the contrary, it is to show how similar they are.
Neither the comforts bestowed upon Arjuna by the accident of his birth defined him, nor the trials that Karna faced became the biggest factor in his life’s achievements. Eventually they became what they became because they worked continuously at self improvement and had a clear goal they chased sincerely.
Your origin cannot and should not have a big say in your ultimate destiny. Where you start should never decide where you end.
The biggest reason they became great leaders was because that wasn’t their target. They remained focused on skills that mattered to them, while other myopic people like Duryodhana and Yudhisthira chased leadership roles.
So, when the time came to lead the armies, both Arjuna and Karna led from the front. Protecting and fighting for the soldiers who followed them, earning the respect of their followers. The so-called crown princes of the empire sat in safe tents planning, while the real heroes fought the war.
Leadership by its definition is about leading. You can’t lead if you are behind. Leadership is neither a burden, nor a privilege. It’s just another aspect of your work and life. Always strive to do the best you can in what you choose to do. When it’s your time to lead, you’ll know. You’ll know because you’ve prepared for it all this while.
The surest way to be a great leader is to stop trying to be a great leader.
What’s your leadership story?