The Unsuccessful Life


One often wonders what “to be successful” is. While growing up one is encouraged to be successful in life and we are told, by hard work and determination, we can be as successful as we wish. We are motivated; we are inspired; we are given examples of people who by sheer determination and effort scaled heights. Teachers, parents, and in fact everyone around tells us that we get one shot at life and its worth to be successful. But when one wants to know what exactly is it to be successful, answers differ.

One teacher told me a successful life was one that had a happy family, a good earning, a good house, a good education and respect in society. Another teacher told me a successful life was a life in which one did what one wanted to. One relative told me a successful life was one where people valued your words. My father told me a successful life was when you could sleep comfortably every night. One gentleman I had met at the airport when I was in school told me that he was still looking for the meaning of success. To be honest, the man at the airport looked more successful than others who had given me the definition of success but perhaps I was also using a criterion of financial achievement as success. So, when I grew up, I had absolutely no clue what success was, while I was expected to be successful by all?

Like every other kid I inevitably grew up and came the time when I had to decide the next step. I sat back in solitude to think and then realized I was completely blank. Everybody around was moving ahead apparently towards a successful life while I was sitting in my room lost in thoughts. Advises came pouring from all direction, saying that I was missing out and if I didn’t take the right decision on time I would regret it forever. It scared me and I was buffeted by nightmares of leading an unsuccessful life-the way it was put, without money, comfort or family. Though the thought of leading such life scared me I wasn’t sure if what all were saying lead to a successful life. With time, the fear turned into deep questioning-a deep desire to know what this whole thing called successful life was.

The question led me to books as there was no coherency in answers given by those around. There were just too many answers floating: I had to find my own. In desire to find the answer I stumbled on life of Buddha. I asked those around me if Buddha had a successful life. They said such lives are beyond success and failure and cannot be judged by the parameters of normal people. Some also said he wasn’t successful because he abandoned his family. Next, it was Mahatma Gandhi. Many told me that he led a successful life and many told me that he didn’t. The same happened with Akbar, Ghalib, Mandela, Ashok, Picasso, Van Gogh and Alexander. I was just looking for one character that was considered successful by all but the task wasn’t easy.

My family agreed on one neighbour who had studied abroad and had recently opened a hospital. I told them I had heard his wife had divorced him because of infidelity. My uncle defended the man saying that when someone is successful people try discrediting them. I couldn’t help but smile. My friends agreed Kurt Cobain had a successful life. But, then why did he kill himself? I told them I wasn’t talking about popularity but success. They couldn’t understand the difference. The world celebrated the success of Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and most agreed to it that they were successful. So, I asked if having a big profitable business was called success: most agreed. When I asked everyone if we knew anything about their personal life, they said it didn’t matter but the answer wasn’t as confident as I would have wanted. This just didn’t sound like an answer I had been in search of all this while. It left me with a feeling of void.

Henceforth, wherever I went I felt everywhere everybody was only talking about the new ventures that had come up in last decade or two. The newspapers were filled with their success stories-of so called “entrepreneurs”. The number of zeroes in bank account was a reflection of success. Most of the young people wanted to model their lives on new age “entrepreneurs” and create their success story-travel all around the world, visit exotic locations, wear expensive clothes, drive luxury cars, live the life they called successful life. Coffee houses, pubs, restaurants-any place people could meet a new idea was being discussed; an idea that could make them successful.

I became a silent observer, observing the world move in a direction of success, while I struggled to make my ends meet. But, somehow, the ubiquitous idea of success held no appeal to me. It just didn’t feel like the best I could do as a human. I didn’t know what exactly I could do but the way world had chosen didn’t meet my idea of life. They said I will end up with nothing with my thought. They said how I could help others without being successful myself. They said it was the only way. They said there was a way world worked and if I didn’t accept the way I would be left behind while the world move ahead. I wasn’t worried about being left behind but I wondered what the other way of living was.

It was serendipity. One day as I was sitting alone thinking about the road ahead my watchman came with few kids. He said these kids had their examination in few months and their parents could not afford to send them to tutors. The watchman said if I could spare some time to teach the kids. I agreed, not because I really wanted to do it, but because I had nothing else to do. Every evening the kids would come to my place and I would teach them for few hours. With time more kids joined and I started liking it. The kids started adding excitement to my life; everyday they brought new stories from their homes and I shared my own stories with them. I knew something had begun.

Few months later, I was sitting with my friends for a dinner. They were talking about a new start up that had managed to raise hundreds of millions of dollars within a year of operation. They were wishing they could live a successful like that-the money, the style, the high life and the comfortable life. They asked me why I never had an opinion on such topic. I didn’t say anything: I just smiled. I was just thinking about the birthday party I had to attend in the slums behind my society next day and everything that was waiting for me-the smiles, the love, the care, the laughter and the innocent stories. They kept talking about high lives of successful people around the world while I sat comfortably smiling on the couch all night revelling in the thought of living a silent unsuccessful life. I didn’t know if I was right or wrong but I knew my unsuccessful life gave me a reason to smile every day and I wondered if one ever needed anything else.


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