Success Sucks

Neymar and his teammates just lost their match against Croatia. They are out of the World Cup. Success for the evergreen Luka Modrić – the hero of his team has to be the indefatigable goalkeeper Dominik Livaković who simply won’t be beaten in penalty shoot-outs. His heroics also saw Croatia beat Japan in the last 16. But, their success sucks to the losers. Japan and now Brazil have both bowed out due to losing the lottery in penalty shoot-outs. Amor fati, what chance do we have against kismet?

I did not have anymore nails to bite after watching Argentina almost lost their collective heads against the Netherlands. I lost the count of the number of yellow cards issued by the ref in the match. There was one yellow card during the penalty shoot-out too, a first for me to have witnessed. For a player to earn the ire of the referee when he is not even involved showed how much success meant to them. My cousin brother lives in Zaandam, not far from Amsterdam. But, I could not support his team because I want a fairy-tale ending for my football god, the goat (greatest of all time), the one and only true football artist on the field, the great Lionel Messi. Success for him is more important for me than to support my cousin. I asked him why they would call their country the Netherlands – it sounded like land in the netherworld. Anyway, I get to watch Messi in the semi-finals. Success for him sucks for the Dutch. It probably sucks too for the other goat contender, Cristiano Ronaldo who was known to sulked when he lost a Ballon d’Or to his nemesis. Success for someone means it sucks for someone else.

My good friend, the old man, had a busy day yesterday replying to congratulatory messages after he shared news of his son’s success in the UK. His son won a prestigious job and news of his success was published in the highly respected magazine that serves as the authoritative news medium for that particular sector. The son’s teacher subscribed to the magazine and for many years since he was a young boy, he ardently read every issue of the magazine after his teacher had finished with them. After his son had left for the UK to study under the tutelage of a great master, the old man continued with the tradition of subscribing to the magazine. A magazine that had its first issue in late 19th century and still exists today has to do many things right. Just don’t print any fake news!

“Did you ever dream of finding an article about your son in the magazine one day?” I asked.

“Keep it a secret! For years and years, I did!” he said with a chuckle.

“But, it has been so long since those dreamy days. It was just another dream that died.”

“Suddenly, he sends you this article about him in it! How did you feel?”

“Unbelievable!” he said, flashing a rare smile that revealed a chip in a front tooth. He was in his favourite sloppy joes that reminded me of his student days. It smelt of dead cells that had dropped off from an old person. Or, maybe his Mrs was right. It could have been the stench from his unwashed hair. She had nagged him again and again and again the other day. “Just don’t walk behind me,” he said to her on their way to the deli. She complained that his hair stunk worse than stale fish after she caught a whiff of the breeze.

“I am expecting a few friends any minute,” he said as he excused himself and went to brush his teeth. The oven clock ticked past 11:51 as I waited for the coffee to boil. Fancy brushing his teeth at this hour. No wonder his Mrs has so many complaints about him. I opened their fridge looking for milk but as usual, the empty space where the milk should be told me they had forgotten to replenish it again. He is lactose intolerant and doesn’t care. She cares but milk is usually the last thing on her mind. He was still clearing his throat when his friends knocked on the door. Kraaaa Phooooi. Kraaaw Phoooi. “Can you get the door for me?” he called out from the toilet.

It was unusual to see a visitor in the house. But, so many?

“Come in, come in,” I said.

“He won’t be long, he’s just in the toilet.”

“Coffee, anyone? It has to be black though,” I offered.

The motley group of friends all said yes and that kept me busy in the kitchen as the old man stepped out and took over making sure his friends felt at home.

“You must be in cloud 9, your son is so successful,” BL said.

“Correction. Sons,” the old man replied and flashed another rare smile.

“Pardon me, it’s sons ….so true!” BL said before adding, “and I ordain you a successful man, a true sifu!” BL acted like a man of the cloth as he pretended to sprinkle holy water at the old man and put his hands together in prayer.

“Success…. what is success?” the old man asked, toying with his friend.

“If we are successful but our children are not successful, then we are not considered successful,” BL said.

“So, our success depends on others?” the old man asked.

“How to determine success?” Four Eyes asked before adding,”I thought it’s meeting the goal that we set for ourselves.”

“If we set the bar too low and achieve it, is that success?” the old man asked.

“But if you set it too high, you can’t achieve it either,” AC joined in the conversation.

“Is success therefore only of merit if we achieved what was set too high?” the old man retorted.

“Can you reach the mountain peak with one step?” Four Eyes added.

“In life a line has to be drawn for everything….How high or low the line, it must be drawn,
If we cross our own line, that’s success for me,” BL said.

“If we achieve the first few goals but stumble on the final bar, is that still success?” the old man asked.

“That’s progress!” AC said.

“So, if progress didn’t lead to achieving our final goal, is that still success?” the old man continued in the same vein of questioning what is success and what it takes to be successful.

“Progress is the pathway to success,” AC replied.

“Yes but what if you fail to reach the peak you’ve set? Is that still success since you achieved many steps along the way,” the old man asked.

“One small step for man, a giant leap for mankind. Is this progress or success?” AC asked.

“That’s fake news and in some quarters it is also known as the moon landing,” the old man said, laughing by himself. Some of his friends looked at him disbelievingly, annoyed at another of his conspiracy theories.

“After so many personal experiences of ups and downs……If you stumble on your final bar, that is just bad luck!” BL said.

“Why? Does it mean we have to reach the peak to be successful?” Four Eyes countered.

“The child’s success is due to the guidance of the parents, and therefore the child’s success is the parents’ success,” BL reasoned.

“Yet I know of many achievers who get there despite their parents’ limitations,” the old man answered. It is by no means certain to give credit to the parents for their child’s success.

“That’s talent. Those with inborn qualities have the unfair advantage,” BL said.

“For most others, the parents need to do the ground work of polishing the unpolished diamond for it to shine, to reveal the child’s brilliance,” BL continued.

The old man disagreed. Surprisingly. “I somehow think the parent has nothing to do with a child’s success,” he said. “Instead, it can be dangerous if the parent is too forceful in trying to shape the child’s career. There are known cases where the child killed the tiger mother due to the undue pressure piled on the child over a sustained period,” the old man said.

“But the parent can at least provide an environment to nurture the child’s interest,” AC said before asking, “without the right setting, how can a child work, focus and excel?

“True but that doesn’t mean the child can’t find their own environment to nurture their own interests, e.g. we went to the public library to swot for our exams, right?” the old man replied.

BL agreed with AC, “the parent has the responsibility to provide a good environment for the child so that the child becomes interested in the subject or discovers a passion for learning. A child is immature and needs inspiration. It is the duty of the parents to give the child the opportunities to be exposed to macam-macam (Malay for various things). “Am I wrong?” he asked.

“You’re right, the adult should give the child space to find his own passion,” AC replied.

The old man agreed, “A child will be inspired by their own interests. So, yeah exposure to as many things is important for the child to discover his own passion.”

“Even among my siblings, there were those who discouraged their kids from pursuing music or art simply because they didn’t want their kids to become musicians or artists,” the old man said. “Maybe they thought there is no money in the arts.”

“Yeah. Expose them to as many disciplines as possible, but don’t tell them what to do,” BL agreed.

“Yes! But tell them talent will only get a person so far. The rest requires hard work, and that goes with anything,” the old man said.

“Yes, I agree, hard work is a must, no two ways about it although encouragement and support by parents are just as critical,” BL said. “When they are passionate, hard work becomes enjoyable!”

TF, who has been quietly enjoying his coffee, decided to join in the discussion. Typically, the astute wise bloke put it down all to fate. “Aiyah, it’s all written in the stars. The older I get, the more I believe that’s the way it is,” he said.

“You can chop down a thousand rainforest trees and make a million bucks. Is that success? For a few billion dollars you have to damage or alter a few ecosystems. Is that success?” he asked.

“Sweet success is a potpourri of mixed accomplishments done through multiple efforts,” CC said. He too had remained quiet during the whole conversation.

“A few wolves can alter the ecosystem – that’s success but whose success is it?” the old man asked.

“Wolves never alter an ecosystem. They only reclaim what was theirs,” TF replied.

“I won’t engage in semantics. Saving the world after it was destroyed, that’s success,” the old man said.

“Well, just give me one example of wolves altering an ecosystem,” TF asked the old man.

“Yellowstone.” the old man replied.

“An example, not a location,” TF said.

“Ok, go read about how the reintroduction of the grey wolf transformed the ecosystem and even the river systems in Yellowstone National Park,” the old man said.

“Reintroduction, re, re, re, re! Hahahahaha, sometimes you’re your worst enemy, you just shot yourself in the foot, see?” TF enjoyed his burst of laughter.

“Saving the world after it was destroyed, that’s still success,” the old man repeated.

“A successful venture may not be a meaningful accomplishment,” CC said.

“Ah, now that’s more interesting. The meaning of life always comes into it when we discuss success,” the old man said.

There was a knock on the door. The old man heaved himself from his chair, feeling every bit of his creaking bones. Things happen gradually and then suddenly. Ageing is no different. It was not so long ago that he would be sprinting across the room to get to the phone or to open the door. But, that man hasn’t been seen lately. In his place, is the old man who waddled to the door, showing signs of hip problems. JL was at the door, beaming a wide smile and narrowing his eyes with glee until they were almost shut. “Wonderful…… talented and hardworking young man with great support from his loving family ….. indeed wonderful. Well done, old man! You must be so proud,” JL congratulated the old man, having just heard the news about his son’s success.

“Thanks, mate but it’s not my achievement, so how can I be proud? I’ll convey your congrats to my son!” the old man said, as he warmly shook his friend’s hand.

“Indeed, we have been celebrating his success,” Four Eyes said.

“But, how do we measure success?” the old man asked.

“It all depends on what is important to each person ……. Everyone’s determination of success is different, to me success in being a parent is bringing up happy children with a strong sense of right and wrong and with some humility and humanity ….. as long as they are happy with their life, I’m happy for them.” JL said.

“I reckon attainment of peace and contentment is true success! Happiness is too fleeting,” the old man said.

“To some, peace and contentment is everything. Christina Onassis, at one time the richest woman in the world, was not happy and she could not see the light. Karen Carpenter, a very talented and rich singer, was also not happy. Each person’s sense of peace and contentment is different and we cannot judge them; only be happy for them ………” JL’s voice trailed away deep in his thoughts.

“The more I think about it, the happier I am for him. It was also pleasing that he remembers his first teacher. I am especially pleased to see her name in the article. She would be smiling in heaven now,” the old man said, the warmth returning to his aching body.

“Just thinking aloud…. does one need to be congratulated for being happy? The Mrs and I are very happy for him but we do not deserve these congratulations. The achievement is totally his and taking any credit for it will only diminish what he has worked so hard for,” the old man said.

“Of course, congratulations is in order, both of you laid the foundations and built them the road which has led him to this path to success,” HM said.

Daniel B also chimed in with the same sentiments. “Hi bro, kindly convey our congratulations and best wishes to your son for his next great role. Kudos to the parents who are also responsible for and important to his success.”

“Thank you, Daniel. But, don’t make me feel guilty, I am not responsible for his success. A strong supporter, yes, but that was all I did,” the old man said, adamant not to take any credit.

“Congrats to your son. Well done. Not forgetting his parents for their guidance and upbringing of their talented son. Cheers and Celebrate,” said ‘Jungleman’ Peter.

“Thanks, Jungleman. Now you’re making me feel guilty too. We were not such terrific parents in actual fact. We were far too busy to give our kids the time and attention they needed. A blessing in disguise as we never imposed our will on them. We did not repackage them into the mould that they did not want to be,” the old man continued in the same vein.

“Congratulations to you for the sacrifices you made for your son,” LCT said.

“Regrets I have a few. Sacrifices I have made many! hahahaha. I think for all the parents here, we should congratulate ourselves. The toil was hard and long and still is for some of us. For what? For our children!” the old man said.

As the party of old friends moved to make tracks to the local restaurant to celebrate the happy news, the old man said, “Success gives the winner a great feeling but it sucks for those who lost.” There is at least one loser, if not many losers for every winner. Indeed, success sucks for the majority. To attain success requires a lot of hard work, perseverance and some risk-taking. No pain, no gain. Whether we move up or down the ladder, our position is vulnerable compared with when both are feet are firmly planted on the ground.

Success is as dangerous as failure

Hope is as hollow as fear.

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

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