A Portrait of Success

 

abstract thought

Open, by Andre Agassi, has been lying on my makeshift mantelpiece bookshelf for over three years. Although I’d monitored the brouhaha that followed its release, the “convenient openness” of Agassi revealing that he’d lied to the Association of Tennis Professionals, ATP, about a failed drug test in which he tested positive for crystal meth, I bought the book because of the good reviews. Thereafter, life happened to me and it ended up in my to-be-read-one-day-I-hope pile.

After I stopped jogging because of a foot injury, I did not think that resuming and gaining momentum would test my resolve. Every day, my body lies to me, but experience tells me the truth—you’ve done this before, and you can do it again. Maybe that’s why the autobiography of a retired star tennis player calls my name.

I start reading in the evening and slip in my bookmark at midnight because my alarm is set for five. Later, I eat lunch with a fork in one hand and the book in the other. Someone asks what it’s about. “Passion, failure, triumph, love, identity,” and as an afterthought I add, “it’s about a former tennis player.” I find, as the New York Post’s praise for Open states, it is, “Much more than a drug confession—Agassi weaves a fascinating tale of professional tennis and personal adversity. . . . His tale shows that success is measured both on and off court.”

The book alerts me to the problems of young success and for one moment, I am wary of success, (the endless practice, to what end?), although I have been chasing it all my life. Neil Gaiman said, “The problems of failure are hard. The problems of success can be harder, because nobody warns you about them.1” Perhaps this is how Agassi felt after winning Wimbledon. He writes, “I feel, in fact, as if I’ve been let in on a dirty little secret: winning changes nothing.2

I could roll my eyes at Agassi and say, “Oh yeah? Hand over all your Grand Slam cheques please!” However, I think about everything I’ve ever wanted, worked hard for, and received or everything I’ve ever wanted that came easy for that matter. How long did the euphoria last? Some say success, is not a destination, but a moving target.

And so, I keep turning pages. I am an umpire in Agassi’s undulating journey, urging him to find his way, as if to reassure me that I too can find my way. Some stories are not ours alone. It is the reason we should not stop telling.

Agassi meets a restaurant manager, Frankie, who makes an impression on him. He arranges a nest egg to help Frankie lighten the burden of educating his kids. Agassi writes, “Helping Frankie provides more satisfaction and makes me feel more connected and alive and myself than anything that happens in 1996. I tell myself: Remember this. Hold on to this. This is the only perfection there is, the perfection of helping others. This is the only thing we can do that has any lasting value or meaning. This is why we’re here. To make each other feel safe.”

Oprah Winfrey, Bill and Melinda Gates, and many others, have committed huge sums to their private foundations and other charities. Why? Tax planning benefits and positive branding? Maybe. Maybe not. But, Tutankhamun and other Pharaohs may have reached the afterlife, and looked around in surprise because their treasures still lay in the pyramids of ancient Egypt, waiting for thieves to loot. The moral of the story? Spend your money on earth!

A common thread weaves through the interviews I’ve read of successful people in their twilight years. While success has conferred many advantages and brought satisfaction, greater fulfilment has come from investing in others.

As I return Open to the bookshelf, I am convinced of what I already instinctively know—this kind of success is not to be feared, it is to be understood.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

  1. Neil Gaiman: Keynote Address 2012, The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. http://www.uarts.edu/neil-gaiman-keynote-address-2012
  2. Agassi, Andre, Open, An Autobiography (New York: Vintage Books, 2009), 167.
  3. Ibid., 230.

Image Credit: Ty Carlson @CreationSwap: http://www.creationswap.com/media/1553

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