Success – When Gravity Pulls

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Success.  A word that is truly difficult to define.  Don’t believe me?  Ask around.  Everyone has their own unique interpretation of what the word means to them.

Why The Difference?

Do bear with me, feathers might get ruffled here.  I am going to pull up some instances of people chasing stereotypical ‘success’ to present my opinion.  No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred 🙂

Here goes:

  • Hipsters trawling through thrift shops, searching for used gems that will afford them their unparalleled uniqueness
  • Inner city youth yearning for pimped out rides with spinners shinier than mirrors
  • 1.3 billion Chinese building up a country that resembles what suburban Americans save money to fly away from
  • Singaporeans paying ransoms for a German VW golf hatchback while well-to-do Germans find ways to ride on the overpriced Deutsche Bahn

I could name more examples, but perhaps your own minds are swimming with similar examples of your own.

When we see distinct patterns of definitions of success that span geographies, cultures or even history, we have to assume that environments are partly responsible for shaping our ideals.  Every zeitgeist is unique, but holds true for a people of a particular time and place.

Uniqueness that is not random. Uniqueness that gets replicated.  Houston we have a problem.

Pursuing What We Had No Right To Possess

I wonder if our images of success are implanted deep within us based on the lacks and wants we endured in our pasts.  I grew up in the bustle of a tropical metropolis, and now long for a cabin in the woods with a nothing but a fireplace and view of the forest without.

If we look back at the various ‘success’ stereotypes I brought forward, we could hazard some guesses on what might have been their inceptions:

  • African americans in the 50’s and 60’s watching rich white neighbours roll past in their shiny cadillacs
  • Millennials growing up in cookie cutter homes with busy unavailable parents working at cookie cutter jobs
  • Starving East-Asians coming out of poverty looking eastward at the bursting middle class of 美国🇺🇸 (literally the ‘beautiful nation’ in mandarin)
  • Singaporeans grappling with extreme resource scarcity with an overarching savings culture that has transcended generations

It seems that absense truly does make the heart grow fonder.

Why The Pursuit Of Change?

With few exceptions, change on the whole brings with it associated discomfort.  Adapting isn’t easy, and due to this, people loathe change.  We as a species hate decisions and live on autopilot for a majority of our time.  Relationships, jobs, places of residence, even consumer brands are things we struggle to displace or replace.

Yet we constantly strive for what we never had, and want lives we have never lived.

We seek change on the macro, but avoid it at all costs on the micro.  The dissonance is breathtaking.

This yearning to have what was never experienced seems to be buried deep within us.  Look around us and you will see it at work constantly and consistently.  It is strong and unyielding, and is impressive in its ability to shape cultural landscapes.  What is this invisible hand that drives us and guides us?  Could we be seeing evolution’s muse working within us, fine-tuning our compasses over the generations?

As the tides of time ceaselessly shift, we can only look on as history reveals this gravity that is pulling us to ever loftier heights.

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Why The Sacrifice?

My grandpa volunteered to leave home (Australia) to fight the Japanese empire in a foreign land, thousands of kilometers from home.  My young grandma was pregnant at the time with my dad.

My great grandma on my Mom’s side left Southern China on a wooden vessel, heading south into the unknown, the only certainty she had was that she would never see home again.

Choices were made at significant personal cost.  What propelled them?  What was the value they saw in stepping into the abyss?

I sit here sipping on an organic dry red, candlelight licking at the brushed aluminium corners of my Apple laptop.  I have Australian sheepskin shoes on my feet, and am gazing at wooden christmas toys hand carved in the Saxon Mountain ranges of Germany.  I have never wanted for anything.

The number of layers of protection I am cocooned in thanks to my friends, my family and the state make it impossible for me to understand what my forbears felt as they pushed off from the shore.

As we trudge to work shoulders hunched, wishing the work day was behind us rather than still to come,  I have to wonder why we are unable to make our own leaps of faith towards carving out a different existence.

The Paradox That Is Time

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Time has to be one of the most paradoxical things that we all have an intimate relationship with.  On one hand, it has tremendous value as nothing can be done or achieved without it.  Yet, we struggle to truly understand and leverage its value as we do not consider it scarce.  The two minutes we kill by watching a cat video is soon replaced by two more.  How do we harness this resource? 

We all know that we get more value from the hour before a deadline than the hour after it. But! Not so simple!  Much like other commodities such as gold and oil, time is truly fungible.  A minute spent waiting for your final grade at the university of Shanghai, China lasts exactly as long as 60 seconds spent gazing at the Teletower on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany.  So why the difference?  And how do we ensure that we make the most out of our time?

The interesting thing is that we almost always initially and erroneously feel that we have infinite time (and therefore do not value it), until we are faced with the reality that we don’t.

Managing Our Relationship With Time

I am convinced that the formula to a life worth living is dependent on our relationship with time.  If we distill our thoughts and actions down to their rawest of motivations, we see how each moment was viewed either as a precious resource, or a painful reminder of our potential that we need to escape from.  How we consistently treat these little packages of time over our years lead to drastically different outcomes. 

Oscar Wilde doesn’t think we can kill time without injuring eternity.  I hope we heed his advice.

What If Life Was a Gamble?

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Caravaggio, The Cardsharps. c.1594

Gambling is perceived to be a vice in most cultures.  The yearning to obtain material gain by short-circuiting good ole work ethic does not sit well in societies today.  Gambling requires that we put something valuable (usually our hard-earned currency) at risk, for a swift in-kind reward.  A ‘win’ allows us access to fruits of labour which is not our own, and affords us a thrill that is unlike any other.  Gambling can be and often is extremely addictive.

So why the negative vibe surrounding the act of gambling?  It is commonplace to hear of how fortunes have been lost and lives ruined due to the act of gambling.  While we are often filled with euphoria when we hit the proverbial jackpot, losing your mortgage payment on the blackjack table brings on shame and anger in a withering way.  Most have been burned before, and the scars cause us to swear off gambling as a means of attaining what we deeply (or not so deeply) desire.  We rarely hear respected members of our society extol the joys of gambling, and as a whole, we as a tribe follow suit.

To put it broadly, societies view gambling as bad because it is seen as irresponsible stewardship of the resources at our disposal.  Pursuits of shortcuts is also perceived by many as a form of laziness.  Fruits of labour they are called, not fruits of the jackpot.

An Interesting Hypothetical

What if however, we found ourselves in a parallel universe. 

Imagine if we were handed a bag of twenty four blue gambling chips every morning. These chips can only be deployed within the day, but winnings begotten by gambling with these expiring chips do not expire. Chips won are not blue, but are of a crimson tincture.  These beautiful red chips can be kept, spent, reinvested, and they never expire.  They are eternal.

Please keep imagining. Do these daily blue chips imbue titillating excitement or heavy dread as they sit in your hands?  You have to spend them in any case, but what do you spend them on?

In such a situation, our fundamental view of gambling should start to shift.  What would you do with that bag of blue chips you find on your bedside table each morning? Do you deploy them?  Is it considered gambling when what you lose was going to expire anyway?

Currently, most of us grab our chips and walk straight over to the restaurant section in the game hall.  We trade the chips in for a comfortable spot with a view and the tastiest morsels our blue chips can buy.  

Risking Those Blue Chips

Well, there are other avenues for those chips to be deployed in, and we know it.  

Curiously, the poker rooms and the roulette tables in our midst offer little attraction for the majority of us.  We steer clear even though the chips lost were going to be worthless anyway.  Why?

I do not know, but I am guessing that for some, the opportunity to place the blue chips at risk for a greater permanent reward does not even register.  For most, an arena that requires participants engage in ‘risky behaviour’, albeit for enviable gain, is just too intimidating an idea to entertain.  

We view ourselves as responsible actors within our own society’s well-worn social fabric, and we make our progress with the rest of the herd in as riskless a way as possible.  Due to this, these arenas where our expiring chips can be put to use remain foreign territory to us.

In case you haven’t yet figured it out, those blue chips I am referring to is the time we get to spend each day.

So why do we not try to hit home runs with the hours we get each day, or the weeks we get each year?   We live in the age of the Internet.  A blog, a song or a video channel has a reachable audience of the globe!

The ability to change our collective environment lies literally at our fingertips.  The opportunities that the modern world affords us are truly astounding.  We live in an era already unimaginable to people who are still alive and well today!  Our blue chips are worth so much more than they used to, it would be a shame not to go on an adventure to see what we could trade them for.

Some resources that I found helpful