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

They Flip When I Flop II

Failure is forever if I quit. That has always been my private motto. I was in class Lower 6 Sc 2 in my last year of high school in Penang. There were only two classes in the science stream. The smarter guys in Sc 1 did Math 1 and Math 2. We in Sc 2 did Biology and Chemistry or Physics. It was a honeymoon year for some of us – those who knew they were leaving for overseas soon. “Soon” was August for those going to the UK, and the following January for those heading to Australia or New Zealand. Naively, I thought that was the end of school life. The reasons to learn were somehow no longer applicable. I could fail in that system and it would not matter. It was ok to flop the year-end exams. I duly got a mark of 41/100 at the end of the year for Chemistry. The first and only paper I ever failed in. It did not register any movement in my Worry Meter. Many of us do not remember sitting for any exams that year. We took the whole exam thing very lightly. No one cared, it was our honeymoon year. I did not freak out. I just told myself that would be the last time I fail in an exam or in any goal I set for myself. I was wrong. Life has a way of finding our weakest link, and once that is discovered, the relentless examination and testing of it will eventually break it. We are as strong as our weakest link. I started a franchise chain in the mid 90’s. It flopped after over a decade of impressive growth. I blamed it on the weakest links which caused the whole chain to break. Did I flip when they flopped? Yes, I freaked out. Not at them but by them. They blamed me for their failures and commenced numerous lawsuits against me. I am still relieved today to have won all of them, through detailed preparation aided by proper and thorough documentation.

Before my stint as a franchisor, I was head-hunted for a position as the Financial Controller / Finance Director of a well-known Sydney-based national business that was the industry leader in car alarms. I discovered real success at aged 32, I thought. The job required me to work in Sydney, to introduce new internal control systems and save the company from further losses. Working in a different city meant I missed out on the most adorable time of my sons’ growing up days. The eldest boy was learning the violin and piano, the twins had picked up their brand new 1/8 size cellos a year earlier. They composed a piano duet one Sunday morning before they turned 5. It was not written on a score since they were not taught the fundamentals of music theory yet nor were they taught any piano lessons. The Mrs and I woke up to a glorious spiritually healing music, which I promptly titled “Morning Glory”. How can young children under five years old create such beautiful music without being taught any fundamentals of music? How did they communicate between themselves and decide on how the music should sound like as a piano duet? Did they hear the same music from inside their heads? They had not been taught how to play the piano. How did they even know how to play on it? Right that moment, I said to The Mrs, “These guys should be given piano lessons! They will have so much fun.” When I left for Sydney to commence on my new job, the eldest son had already mastered the art of cycling his BMX bike. The older twin had just begun learning to peddle his tricycle whereas the younger twin, the “baby”, was contented to drive his toy push-car along the street with his little feet. He was the happy tortoise who was oblivious of his brothers’ hare-like speed in zooming up and down the cul-de-sac. I missed out on most of those scenes as I focused on my work in Sydney.

Ba is coming home today!

My living quarters were in the company’s Randwick flat with the convenience of cheap Chinese food cooked in bulk for the hordes of uni students living in that suburb. I did not realise it at the time, but I would have been one of the pioneers of FIFO’s – Fly in Fly out brigades which became the norm during the mining boom of early 21st century Australia. My shift was 12, -2 i.e. 12 days on, 2 days off. I got to spend every second weekend at home with my family. After nine months of intensive auditing and implementing new system controls, I handed my report card to my fellow directors at the board meeting. I dropped a bombshell that day. The business was beyond saving. It required an immediate capital injection of half a million dollars. The chairman informed me that he had done just that prior to appointing me for the job, and could not believe his ears that all that money had already disappeared – siphoned out by the crooked workers and contractors. The chairman freaked out. They flipped when they saw that I had flopped. The next morning, the chairman called in the administrators. The business had become officially insolvent. My impressive biography had to be altered but I could not put it down in writing. It would have read “Finance Director of a business that went into voluntary liquidation.”

Where is the absent father?

Success is most often achieved by those who have discovered failure.

Will success come to me? Coincidentally, Mak sends me a meme about success. It said success is measured by others, best to ignore it. I think success is measured not just by others but by everyone. The only measure that is relevant is the personal one. What is success? Material wealth? Status? Respect? An enviable lifestyle? Happiness? Happiness is the elusive goal. I do not think we can actively set ourselves to achieve happiness. We may develop the right attitudes, be contented, be peaceful, be righteous. But, all that will not guarantee happiness. Something may strike us. Someone may hurt us. Happiness just comes to us, when we least expect it. Maybe the secret is to live without expectations. Without expectations there will be no disappointments, and only then may happiness suddenly land on our laps.

“Happiness is like a butterfly. The more you chase it, the more it eludes you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it comes and sits softly on your shoulder.”
– Henry David Thoreau

Many will say I am already successful. By many measures, I suppose I am. My marriage is still intact, after 38 years. The Mrs and I have three very good sons, all of them independent, respectful of their elders, and respected by their colleagues and friends. My business is still an ongoing concern; it still employs a few people and thus still contributes to society. Touch wood, at 61, my health is still good despite the harsh challenges my business threw at me and the sedentary nature of my work. The Mrs and I paid out the home mortgage some ten years ago. We are debt-free, set free from all obligations to the banks. Yet, I am still not totally carefree. There is still the matter of living responsibly. A filial son, even at my age, has duties. It is not that I feel obliged to spend time with my mother, I want to. She is 96, her enjoyment is to be with her children. I work during the week, so the weekend “roster” is for me to fulfil. Without exception, lunch or dinner on Saturdays and Sundays are booked with Ma. It is uncomfortable to have to tell her about my forthcoming overseas trips. Ma will lament for a few weeks and “count the days” of when I leave. Living responsibly. That also means the continued responsibility to the woman I married who is the mother of my sons, and to my sons, the Millennial or Gen Y’s. The Mrs and I are baby boomers, products of the celebrations after WW2. Sandwiched between the elders (our parents and parents-in-law) and our children, we bore responsibility for all three generations. I saw that as just a part of life, and for me, it never felt like it was a burden too heavy to carry. That is called living responsibly. The Gen Y’s heard about all that; the early marriage, the rush to find a career – immediately, and early parenthood. They witnessed the challenges of the child-bearing, the child-raising, and the child-like needs of the elderly. Filial piety has a price. The children witnessed the dark side of suffering in old age. Their maternal grandma’s long trail of plastic tubing that snaked along the floor from the downstairs bathroom and toilet to the oxygen tank in her bedroom; her pain, immobility and the shortness of breath caused by the emphysema that wrecked her lungs. The frequent visits to the Royal Adelaide Hospital – the old folks seemed to take turns; her turn – shortness of breath, his turn – acute constipation, her turn – shortness of breath, his turn – broken hip. Then, funeral 1, followed by the frequent trips to two nursing homes to visit their grandpas. Later on, funeral 2, funeral 3. Before funeral 3, there were my two years of daily visits to Pa’s nursing home. He had to go in, despite his protestations. Heavy set and tall, he broke his hip after a fall. Eventually, his Type 2 diabetes won the battle and he became an amputee, losing his leg to the disease. The Gen Y’s witnessed all of that. They were witnesses to the lifestyle of giving and more giving. When they grew up, they made a choice to live their own lives, for themselves. I guess they did not find my choices agreeable. None of them embraced the early marriage, early career and early parenthood paths I took. Ma sees that as a failure on my part to inculcate in them the doctrine of passing the genes and carry on the family name. She sees it as my duty to persuade my sons to deliver the next progeny and thus the next generation to the clan. Somehow she cannot see the funny side of this quest since she herself is not born into the clan. The clan is without a crest, flag or coat of arms. The future therefore will have no need for a flag bearer. So, what does it matter, right? When she sees me on Saturday, she will flip again, to know her mission is still a flop.