Aligning with Swadharma: Walking the Talk in Your Career

Based on a wellness workshop for Chinmaya Setukari
Aligning with Swadharma: Walking the Talk in Your Career
What you have is all His Gift to you. What you do with what you have is your Gift to Him.
Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda

Finding swadharma for some people is harder than for others. For some, you may not uncover your swadharma right away, while others know, even in their childhood, what they were born to do. I’d like to share my reflections based on my own career transitions to find my Swadharma. My hope is that through this article, you will find a starting point to aligning your work with your swadharma.

Pivotal moments

We all go through inflection points; that point in our lives where we feel like we are sitting on the precipice of a big change or transition. We experience life-altering circumstances which causes a shift in us, in our mindset and outlook, after which we are not the same. We cannot go back to how we were, and yet the way forward is not clear. I had two such inflections. The first, when I was a stressed lawyer. I went on a yatra in 2001 to the Himalayas with Swami Mitrananda. After that trip, I knew being a lawyer wasn’t my calling, and I became deeply inspired to find my swadharma.

So as many of us do when we are not clear, I decided the answer to a lack of clarity was even more education, and that brought me to the US to do my Masters of Laws in Dispute Resolution. Then after a lot of searching, I pivoted to working in the Government and I was a public servant for 8 years.  During this time, I felt a lot of resonance in serving Chinmaya Mission in various capacities from Bala Vihar facilitator to a leadership role in CHYK West.  I felt on purpose. However, in my career, I knew I still hadn’t found my swadharma. Serving the Mission gave me a glimpse of my best self, and I felt a growing gap between who I was at work and who I really was as a person. The discontent kept me restless and searching for opportunities.

 The next inflection point came when I had my first child. Then I asked myself what’s worth it to leave my child at home and go to work? What is true career success for me? What did career success look like on my terms? For me, it needed to be meaningful and impactful. I wanted to make a decent living AND I wanted to show up fully integrating spirituality into my work. That inquiry about career success and the subsequent quest to bring my whole self to work is what brought me to coaching. As a coach, I feel like I’m finally doing what I was born to do. My goal is to partner with others who are on their yatra and support them through the process of deep inquiry.


 Pujya Gurudev gives us a working definition of swadharma in His commentary. You can find your swadharma by reflecting on what you love to do. What work do you lose yourself in? What comes to you naturally and effortlessly? For me, I realized that asking powerful questions was something that came to me naturally, that I loved doing, and which I did so often that I was often shut down in school for asking too many questions! I had a natural curiosity about people, and a passion to learn about their motivations. So, reflecting on Gurudev’s question led me to uncover the skill in which I excelled and enjoyed - which I use in my profession as a coach.

The other point to note about Swadharma is that it is the vehicle to our end goal so we need to be clear on what success looks like for us. Once you are clear on your end goal, then you can focus on how to get there. Make a list of all the things that fulfil you in a career e.g. freedom, spirituality, growth, respect, belonging. Then, ask yourself, does your definition of success address or encompass your spiritual quest? How is your Swadharma important to your end goal? Connect your purpose and your goal, and that will drive your motivation to find fulfilling work.

In Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3, verse 35, the concept of swadharma is addressed:


श्रेयान्स्वधर्मो विगुण: परधर्मात्स्वनुष्ठितात् |

स्वधर्मे निधनं श्रेय: परधर्मो भयावह: || 35||


śhreyān swa-dharmo viguṇaḥ para-dharmāt sv-anuṣhṭhitāt

swa-dharme nidhanaṁ śhreyaḥ para-dharmo bhayāvahaḥ

Better one’s own ‘duty’, though devoid of merit, than the ‘duty’ of another well-discharged. Better is death in one’s own ‘duty; the ‘duty of another is fraught with fear (is productive of positive danger).

In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna is himself debating a “career” transition - moving from a kshatriya to a renunciate. He is afraid that in doing his duty as a warrior, he is going to cause devastation and harm. And instead of Krishna giving him a career transition plan, the Lord tells him he MUST do his swadharma, and it’s ok if he doesn’t do it perfectly or well. The alternative is far worse. From this, we can glean a critical message:  Swadharma is so important that it is better to do our swadharma badly or even to die doing it, than it is to do another person’s swadharma.

This runs counter to our wiring as a society, particularly as an Asian community, because we tend to focus on security, rather than purpose. The verse tells us our innate tendencies are what we need to be focusing on, and that is paramount. And this shifts how we look at the world of work because we have to shift our identity from being a job seeker to a seeker.

We have to ask ourselves what identity we are prioritizing. Are we first seekers and then job-seekers or is it the other way round? This is an important inquiry because your primary identity shifts the conversation you have about your career, and this will open the path to deeper clarity about your swadharma.

 It’s important to ask ourselves the right questions; if not, it will be hard to become aligned with our swadharma. We will find ourselves held back by fear of failure, insecurity and rejection.

Vedanta urges us to inquire deeply into ourselves to understand the True Reality. We can similarly follow the process of inquiry to uncover our swadharma. The above list of questions can be the starting point for digging into our purpose so that we can more fully use our potential to serve the world.

Chinmaya Udghosh