Why Aren’t I Rich? — A Lesson From Mona Lisa

Srikumar S Rao
4 min readNov 10, 2021

Here is a common complaint.

I hear it from my coaching clients, from those who would like to be my coaching clients, from those who apply to take Creativity and Personal Mastery, from members of the audience listening to my talks and many more.

‘Why aren’t I rich like X?”

They are intelligent. They are creative. They work hard. They model themselves after some paragon of supreme success.

But, somehow, while the paragon was a rocket, they barely make it to the damp squib realm.

Elisabeth Holmes, of Theranos fame, reportedly wore black turtlenecks — just like Steve Jobs. She also modeled Jobs in speech and mannerisms. But she did not become a business icon and is currently under trial for securities fraud in San Jose.

There are books, videos, podcasts, documentaries and much else that purport to tell you the secrets of these zillionaires. There are courses that teach you those secrets and how you can master them and apply them to your life.

And then of course, you, too, will become like them.

Occasionally an acolyte does achieve a measure of success and they are promptly extolled and held up as proof that the ‘secret’ works.

You never hear about the multitude of others for whom it did not work.

Behind this sincere questioning, and the angst, is belief that you have control. You can make things happen. You just need to figure out how to make them happen. X did it. So, you learn from X and do the same and you, too, will get to the same place. This is what I call ‘The Illusion of Control.”

The illusion of control is what makes you get up in the morning, make plans and execute on those plans. It is responsible for the success you have had in life. It is a wonderful construct.
But use the Illusion of Control with the full knowledge that it is an illusion. Sooner or later, it will break down in your life. It already has, many times. It will again. And again.

Because the truth is that you do not have control. You never had control. You never will have control.

You read about a business titan who got up every day and took at cold shower at 5.00 a.m. and then he mapped out his day in ten-minute intervals.

You do likewise but do not achieve his success. You do not pause to consider that, perhaps, he succeeded despite his quirks and not because of them.

There is an X-factor operating that determines why this happens. It has been called many things — fate, karma, destiny, luck, fortune, kismet, chance and what have you.

Here is a powerful example.

What is the most famous and most expensive painting in the world?

Most will say that Mona Lisa is both. Its insurance value is a billion dollars and, should it ever go on auction, it would probably fetch many times that sum.

Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa just over five hundred years ago in the early sixteenth century. For more than four hundred years it was just another painting and little known outside the art world. For a while it hung in Napoleon’s bedroom in the Tuileries Palace.

In 1911 it was stolen from the Louvre by an employee named Vincenzo Peruggia and promptly made headlines all over the world. The painting was recovered two years later when he tried to sell it to the director of a museum in Florence.

Peruggia was Italian and felt that the painting belonged in Italy and this political angle generated more headiness.

Back at the Louvre, as a well-known painting, the Mona Lisa was attacked by vandals who tried to cut it with a razor blade and threw rocks at it. Each time this happened, it came to the world’s attention.

And so, today, the Mona Lisa is encased in bulletproof glass and occupies its own niche at the Louvre and long lines of visitors queue up to gawk at it.

How the Mona Lisa became famous is a classic example of the X-factor at work.

The Indian sage Sri Vidyaranya, in his classic treatise Panchadasi, gives us a model to use:

That which is not to happen will not happen.
If it has to happen, it will not be otherwise.

This opens a Pandora’s Box of questions. Is the future ‘determined’? By whom? Why should we put in any effort for any cause if the end is ‘determined’? And we get right into the ‘fate vs. free will’ debate.

I will take up these issues in my next blog.




Srikumar S Rao

Srikumar Rao is the author of “Are You Ready to Succeed?” and creator of the celebrated MBA course, “Creativity & Personal Mastery.” // theraoinstitute.com