I've become something of an advisor to a 16-year old with high-political ambitions in recent days and my discussions with him have lead me to ponder about the meaning of "success," and the question of what price are we willing to pay to reach our definition of success.
Life in Singapore, and in fact much of the capitalist world, success is defined by material wealth. In Singapore we called them the 5c's - I think they were Condominium, Cash, Car, Credit Card and Career. In the USA, they talk about the "American Dream." Everyday we are bombarded with subliminal messages about having to buy this and that to make us feel better about ourselves - if you drive a Honda you'll definately be the target market for those making Mercedes Ads (Never mind if you can't afford the Merce, we'll sell you a loan at outrageous prices too).
And even if I'm lampooning the system of encouraging people to buy things they don't need, I have to take some responsability for this. I've worked in an industry that thrives on encouraging companies to sell more by planting the message into people's minds that they need to buy more without really thinking if they need more. Paulo, the man who relieved me of Adelene said it best, "If Engineers ran the world, the capitalist economic system would collapse because we'd build every product to fit all your needs. Marketing people on the other hand give you things that only satisfy a third of your needs so that they can sell you more needs later on." - If only Adelene never existed, I would have had access to a font of common sense.
So we have it! This is a world that depends on having more and being able to aquire more. Somehow, if you don't have more, you're judged as an abolute failure who should kill himself. Girls, as every guide book to the pick-up reminds us, like a guy to have a little bit of cash to splash on them and if you as a man can't pick-up chicks and get married and thus procreate, what use are you to society.
By all definitions, I'm a miserable failure. At the age of 32, I've failed to work in any organisation for more than a year. I'm making a mountain out of a molehill because in 8-years of being a dependeable adult, I've finally saved more than 2 cents within a fiscal year. Needless to say I'm nowhere near being able to have a hovel of my own or a old banger to get me from one end of the block to another. - With all this against me, I'm destined to die a sad and lonely loser. My best friends in the mean time have run past me in the stakes of success and sometimes take a little bit of pitty on me whenever we're out together.
Funnily enough, in the face of all this failure, I don't feel like I should just end it now because I'm a miserable failure. In fact, I'm actually afraid that I'll end up owning alot of things that normal people have. Perhaps you could call it a case of being riddiculously bloody minded and having this secret desire to stick my middle finger up at everything we all hold dear.
I've never had a desire to own things. I try my best to remove my self-esteem from what I own or where I live. I remember a friend who was trying to persuade me to take out a car loan under my name for him. The man was persistent. He even went as far as to tell me that, "My daughters feel shy when their school friends ask them why their Daddy does not have a car." Blame my mother for this, but my first thought was - "Doesn't that speak volumns about the way you raised your daughters."
Some people are darn good at the "Buy-Buy-Buy" game. It really makes them happy that they can go out and own all sorts of gadgets. My Dad is one of those people. He complained that I was more into money for its own sake rather than in owning beautiful things. He told me that it was the love of beautiful things that kept him motivated to find money.
Some people are not into things. I know I'm not one of them and as I age, I'm realising that success is a very personal thing and being able to define ones personal meaning of success leads one to greater personal happiness. I refer people to my previous entry on Zen, the world's chubbiest flesh ball. Here is someone who has everything going against her and yet she finds pride and happiness in what she does.
I remember my Dad telling me that he would have been very happy for me if I converted to Islam and married a Malay girl. He noticed that, "We, Chinese, are actually very unhappy even though we've got quite alot. The Malays don't have much money but they're happy." And he's right. Stroll down Shenton way and you have busy Chinese faces chasing I don't know what. The Malays on the other hand are busy being with their families, making their homes more pleasent and welcomming strangers towards their culture.
As Vinod used to say, "I love having money." Having money is fun and being broke is a rather crappy experience. On the other hand, chasing money and power for the sake of it often has a way of backfiring in rather painful matters. Somehow money and respect have a way of not being there when you're looking for them most earnestly. I've found that I've done best when I've been concentrating on the work at hand rather than worrying about money. Life is indeed funny.