No one tells you success is bad

Applause dies as do illusions built by fame.

 |  6-minute read |   12-07-2017
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It is a universal truth that success introduces you to the world. It is equally true that failure introduces the world to you. Mankind and of course, womankind too, are chasing what is probably the most elusive of shadows which has as many shapes and sizes as can be limited by human imagination: success.

We play to win, we build enterprises to become billionaires and we battle for victory.

Nobody really has a universally acceptable definition of success, but a mass perception has centered around name, fame and wealth which, if added together, would make the tidy sum of success.

And who would not be inspired by Bob Dylan's, Forever Young, in which he sings, "May you build a ladder to the stars. And climb on every rung…" Anybody would give a right arm to take that, if offered.

A vast majority conflates success with power en route happiness, but that is not necessarily the case as many "successful" people have learnt.

Kings, emperors, sultans and emirs, Nobel laureates' life stories have been filled with long periods of sadness, ill-health or pain of loneliness.

Sometimes, it was health or personal debility and sometimes one coveted or longed for love that never got fulfilled, and left a permanent void.

audi_071217031454.jpgWe need to remember that balloons will also float, but never for long. Gas has limitations. Photo: Reuters

Happiness cannot possible equal success, which really is a byproduct of human endeavours in the pursuit of excellence, often inversely proportional and most certainly incidental to pursuit of one's goals.

The experience of happiness is personal, a state of one's mind and those even in close proximity can barely feel it in varying degrees of intensity without letting it spill over to envy or jealousy.

It is a truism that life's best prizes do not go to the most deserving. They go to the ones who dare.

This is the major cause of unhappiness around the world. And, sadly, the deserving lack the dare, consumed most times as they are by the merit of their own intellect in contrast to rivals' perceived or real mediocrity.

Thus, despite their talent they can rarely choose the moment to act, preferring the moment for an invite, which in the nature of the world order, does not happen.

If you never try, you will never know, goes the saying. You have to dare to achieve the impossible.

The latest phenomenon is one with portents of grave danger to the way the future existence of this world will pan out. And that is the evergrowing inclination of fabricating success.

Nothing has had global replication as much as the acquired ability to manufacture credible illusions on such a scale as to create the spectacle of success.

Communism as an ideology was supposed to be a huge success till the erstwhile Soviet Union and the east bloc fell apart.

The United States claimed total success in the war against the Marxist ideology till it withdrew from Vietnam.

The financial world has often been guilty of exaggerated success till the global meltdown happened with the sub-prime crisis. Obviously, success is crafted so as to dazzle and blind the doubters, at least till personal fortune has been stashed beyond the reach of the law.

We also have success made to order.

Everything is a magnification of effort and enlargement of outcomes.

The advertising world is a prime exaggerator, for example, where you can lose weight in days, turn from a dark horse into a "fair and lovely" person in about a week, buy a dream home with no money, invest in a mutual fund and become wealthy in a couple of months and for being happy ever after just wear a stone made compatible with your stars by the experts.

Hype it up, or in today's descriptive idiom "sex it up" and your product is a winner! And to win is the hallmark of success.

It is all about riding the edge as the line between the credible and the incredible has vanished.

Manifestoes of political parties always read like the magnificent men and women are about to usher in the golden age in which every household will have a house, a job, a pension, every child will have a school, every woman will be worshipped as a goddess and the enemies will be vanquished into oblivion.

"Just give us the vote" and "we will give you the time of your life, and build a heaven on earth". The number of people who fall for this con is in millions around the globe, but the hype gets bigger and better, every time an election is about to happen. If success is an exaggeration of an outcome, the inputs and the effort, too, have to be hyped to that scale to make it credible.

A constant crescendo of endeavour has to be kept up, a man on the moon in two years, country to gallop at breakneck rate from now on, "permanent solutions" coming soon to national issues, transformational governance on the way: Just keep the "daze" pills coming.

We need to remember that balloons will also float, but never for long. Gas has limitations.

Success inevitably gets linked to power and influence. In street parlance, in corporate conversations, in the political context, in social sets, to be the envy of peers, success is to have the power to favour friends and harm the enemies.

It takes one past the crowds in airports, into the corridors of the rich, in public spaces, a pride of place for the bearers of power.

It bestows the status of a preference shareholder with priority claim on the dividends of the earth's assets, with a privileged right of opinion on every happening around the city and the country.

These are part of the bouquet of roses for the conjuror of success.

Well, for the believers, if you have success, little else matters and if you don't have it, it matters little what else you have.

It gives a sense of immortality. To these believers, it is good to remember that success is also a matter of chance. As Justice Roberts of the US Supreme Court so beautifully summed it for his commencement address at a school: " I wish you bad luck from time to time so that you understand that your success is not completely deserved and the failure of others is not completely deserved either."

But, as history so cruelly tells us, nothing lasts. How many people can recall the last ten Nobel laureates, or the five wealthiest people of the world, or the five winners of Miss Universe? No, none really, people remember only those nice anonymous men and women who made them laugh for a day or loved them for a time or helped them get over an adversity.

Applause dies as do illusions built by fame. Not afraid to fail is success, as Justice John Roberts said to the passing out ninth graders in his son's school. How true!

 Also read: How Indian women use medicines to alter menstrual cycles to fit orthodox customs

Writer

RMS Liberhan RMS Liberhan

Former director, India Habitat Centre and a former civil servant and writes on public issues.

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