After some time, I reunited with a classmate who was a trailblazer back in college. We bumped into each other last week and talked lengthily about what grind had made us.
He blabbered about his work, his travel, his properties, his exploits, and his greatest achievement by far — him being a father to a seven-year-old son. I can always trace moments of joy in the mere mention of his son’s small victories, recitals, and their duo’s games.
As he was saying all these, I mimic our professor in college with “are you a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond?” which is a litmus test of character. Our professor would goad us into the thought that positions and prizes are secondary, and at times, unimportant in life. The pitfall, as we were cautioned, is to settle for what is conveniently discriminating: education, title, and positions.
Late into his 30’s, my friend is already ahead of the pack. He has made a name, achieved a lot in his personal and professional pursuits. His reputation preceded him. So I slurred, “Are you a big fish now?” He made a faint smile. Then he told me that he has the trouble of a person at the top: easy to spot and easy to attack!
The top is an uneasy place to be. It is a life of grappling and shoving. But there will come a time when you would realize that life is better lived by the moment; not in the generalizable catchword “success.” To be successful is to win the battle of the everyday.
There is that daily search for meaning and purpose in every opportunity. It is to seize the opportunity to stand for what is just right without the corrosive self-righteous. Life is better lived with courtesy, politeness, kindness, tolerance and less of competition. It is to exercise propriety at all times. To my friend, the highest form of education is to develop character atop courage and integrity. He also wants to see values that deflect the arrogance and entitlement that abounds in the youth. My friend taught me things that matter most. It is not the reputation that we make out from the many accomplishments; it is the character that is polished every day. It is not being big or small that will define the fish and the pond; it is the life of the fish and the unspoiled nature of the pond.
(Opinions, views, and expressions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect his organization.)