The Price of Success

In the movie “Interstellar”, the hero character, Cooper, (played by Mathew McConaughey) was literally asked to save the world as we know it (the most heroic thing to do) but in return, he must leave all his loved ones behind with the possibility of not seeing them again. His act of courage will save the human race on the long term, but on the short term, he will not be able to save his kids and loved ones, rather he must leave them behind to their destiny. He will never be able to see his kids growing up in front of his eyes, never be part of their life ever again.  In my opinion, the movie brought up two very important points.

1) Do we all have big and larger than life dreams and aspirations that we want to achieve?   what makes successful people successful? I will argue that the answer is no, we don’t all have big goals or larger than life dreams.

2) The quality of time spent throughout our life time, was it for personal achievements or to add value to others’ lives (i.e. family members and loved ones)? And for this one, the answer is not that easy, despite the ideal answer, reality around us proves otherwise.

Lets start with the first point, larger than life achievements require larger than life sacrifices, and as based on this movie, to reach for the stars one must be willing to leave loved ones behind on earth I guess. In theory, anyone of us might say “yes sure, I can do it for the greater purpose” but in reality, as humans we always evaluate the risks in any challenge and depending on the our personal character as well, we make our decision. So if you are a parent, taking the above challenge is not easy at all.  On the other hand, the majority of us go through life and die passively without achieving our goals that we always dreamt of, simply because it was only a wishful thought.

The definition of success and achievement is different from one person to the other, and this has nothing to do with how big or small our goals are in comparison to others, as we should never compare. Each of us have our own circumstances and experiences that sets us apart from one another. Some would want a small happy family and good house and a decent job, while others want to be a famous soccer player, or a member of Doctors-Without-Borders to help others all over the world, and some would want join the rich and famous club. Hence there is no one model for happy life or success, as we all have our own versions. One thing for sure though, is that no one makes it alone and external factors in our lives play a big role in supporting or blocking our plans.

Looking at success from another angle, the book “The Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell talks in details about what made successful people so successful. It is about the men and women who achieve out of the ordinary results, and how is success defined in our minds vs. how it should be defined. The book argues that no one ever made it completely on their own, and that their backgrounds, growing up circumstances, parents, society and period when they were born are all contributing factors into the success stories, so external factors are mostly key in making it or breaking it for some of the success stories shared. In many education systems, all over the world, “ability grouping” gives advantages to the more talented kids, hence it supports the talented kids with better education programs, while the average kids remain using the average education programs, which makes the talented even better, while the average never gets the same chance to grow. One can argue this further in others aspects of life, for example in the USA, the taxes on the rich is less and has more facilities than on the poor, so the rich gets riches and the poorer gets it the hard way. However, the point here is to understand the impact of the external factors into the success of successful people, driven by the three main factors instilled by our societies at large (selection, streaming & differentiated experiences).

For example, if two men were born on the same day, but one was born in an American city, while the other was born in a poor village in Yemen (assuming both have the same IQ level), the advantages the kid born in the USA have (i.e. environment, education quality, resources, money etc.) and the lack of such resources for the kid who was born in Yemen will make all the difference between the two kids as the advantages will clearly and positively impact the life of the American kid, all things remains the same. Another example from the sports industry, where usually age bracket is key into the process of selection and acceptance for any kid joining any sport. In this industry, especially in the western world, the selection by age comes first, then the streaming of the good players vs the average or below average ones happens where such talented ones get to be noticed and nurtured. After which, comes the differentiated experience where those talented kids are given extra trainings or special programs to enhance their talent and become pros, and it is all for the sake making it big in that sports of the school or the university or even the country. Hence, if a kid is not selected from the beginning into this chain of processes, he/she is left out of the advantages given to the selected ones. The book also talks about the magic number of hours that needs to be invested by any person in learning/practicing a certain field, to become an expert in that field, which is 10,000 hrs. So far, it was never registered that anyone was able to become an expert and a successful person in their field while spending less than 10,000 hrs., from the famous rock band, the Beatles, to Bill Gates of Microsoft, to bill Joy of Sun Microsystems, and the list goes on and on, from artists to sports legends to business people etc.

Now to the second point; what matters the most to us as individuals? more quality time with family and loved ones or personal goals and dreams? A bit of both is possible of course, but 100% on both is not possible. In today’s busy lifestyle, many working parents, especially men (as women are multitasking, so by design they are better in this balance than us men) spend late hours at work and don’t get to see their kids for days, and their excuse is usually workloads. We assume that we are working late and hard so that we can create a better living for our families, and while that is partially true, it has a lot of selfishness into it, as we are also satisfying our own egos and feeding our own vanity by working hard so we can achieve more and succeed and stand above all others as the worthy of success. In reality kids don’t really care how much money their parents make and they are willing to settle for a lot less than what parents provide them only to get more quality time with them. Cooper, from the movie, could have rejected the mission and spend the rest of his lifetime with his kids and see them growing up and even die in their lifetime. He chose not because i) he did not know the mission will take this long & ii) he wanted to save the human race at large and his kids future as well.

If you read any death-bed literature, you will notice that no one ever talks about wishing for more time to make another million or close another deal or get a new car, no one ever did. At such times, materialistic and personal possessions don’t matter. What matters is the quality of life we had; did we spend enough time with our families and loved ones, were we there for our kids while they were growing up, did we express our love to the ones who expected from us, did we take risks and had a fulfilled life, did we really lived life or were busy making a living until life passed us by, did chase our dreams or did only spent our lives reminiscing on what-if’s. There is no right or wrong answer here, as it all depends on your personal priorities in life and what matters the most to you. We will all say that our loved ones and kids matter the most, but in reality not all of us are acting on it and making sure to spend enough quality time with the loved ones. A friend of mine once told me that every day at 6pm he consciously tells himself this “it is now 6pm, and I have a choice to make, and that is to either go home now and spend some time with my kids before they go to bed at 8pm, or stay at work and don’t spend time with my kids and only go home when they are already sleeping.” He said that this way of thinking and looking at the situation helped him most of the time to make the right thing and go home to his kids.

Finally, always remember that this is the real deal, the only life you are given. No repeats, no extra lives, no rehearsals and most of all, no fixed timing, as “Game Over” can come at any minute. So whatever you want to do or achieve or whomever you want to be with, go do it now before it’s too late.


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