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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46 thoughts on “A Portrait of Success

  1. Great post as usual. Illuminating as well. Quotable-s for days.

    When I read this “Thereafter, life happened to me and it ended up in my to-be-read-one-day-I-hope pile.”, I had to laugh a bit, my my pile keeps getting taller every week.

    Indeed, for me the euphoria always seems to be during the challenge and the work, now I try as much as possible to savor the times of “struggle” and “work”


    1. Haha, I keep hoping I will find time to read, but I’m realizing I need to ‘take’ time to read. How about you, what are you doing to reduce the pile?

      Hmmm, so the euphoria occurs during the challenge phase not the accomplishment phase, for you? What do you mean by savouring times of struggle and work, I’m curious.


  2. Great post Timi! I love your illustration of the Egyptian Pharaohs and their wealth. Since I read John Maxwell’s Your Roadmap for Success, I have learnt to see success as a journey and to define success in terms of the discovery of purpose, maximisation of potentials and sowing seeds that benefit others.
    “While success has conferred many advantages and brought satisfaction, greater fulfilment has come from investing in others.” Very true!


    1. I guess the definition of success varies. I like the one you’ve shared as well. It would seem that Agassi learnt that the rewards that accrue from getting to the top of the game ultimately mattered little if he wasn’t investing in others. It helps to put things in perspective for me.

      Ah, the Pharaohs, I had this comic picture in my head, lol 🙂 Thank you!


  3. When people who are famous give, I appreciate when it comes out from the receiver, upon the deaths of those who gave. I don’t think people should mention it, despite Andre’s apparent admission it made him feel better than other things in his life. Giving anonymously, is so wonderful and I admire this the most… Just a thought! I know you and I do good things every day, one way or another, but only once in awhile do they get acknowledged which is supposed to remind us of how good INSIDE we feel, intrinsically…. Smiles!


    1. What’s the saying- don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing?

      I guess if you’re giving on the scale that the people I mentioned, including Agassi who has a school, are, then publicity is part of the territory, seeing that you are also riding on the funds of others (The Gates Foundation receives funding from other high net worth individuals), and general goodwill . . .


  4. Rich (pun intended) and beautiful, T. You know success is a theme I’ve been flirting with and testing (both to mean exploring, in the writing) on AHJ. Love the angles you introduce, how these stars don’t find the grass so green at the top. Lovely ending.

    PS: I consider you beyond a jr as Grammar Police.


    1. I should hop over and read your take. The Preacher, one of the richest and wisest men that ever lived, said, “Everything is meaningless.” Makes you wonder where meaning is, doesn’t it?

      I’ll take rich and beautiful, thank you! 😉
      Lol@ grammar police. You are always kind with your words Diana, and I know you mean them. Thank you.


  5. As always, Timi, your essays create a lot more thoughts than I have time to express but here are a few:

    While success might be fleeting, the euphoria can last a long time and may help a person get through many dark hours. I feel for those who have never known success.

    The definition of success is always relative. I will never understand how a news commentator can express disappointment about someone coming in second at the Olympics. I mean the person may be the second fastest runner in the world. How can he or she not be successful?

    The best help we can ever give to another person is to help them help themselves (the teach a man to fish story) or inspire them to be more than they are.

    What is more successful than a child’s first steps? 🙂 –Curt


    1. Ah, if I have provoked thought, then one part of my job is done. Thank you for taking the time to share some of your thoughts.

      Indeed, the memory of past victory can motivate us. In my case, it helps when my body says it can’t jog. My mind reminds my body that it’s won before.

      @Fishing, I agree though it can be time consuming sometimes. Meanwhile, I’ve heard of communities that resented efforts to teach them to fish, and clamoured for fish instead!

      “The definition of success is always relative.” I guess it is not that number 2 doesn’t matter, it is that number 1 matters more. Isn’t that what the Olympic runner was training for anyhow? And doesn’t the disappointment hit the runner who came 2nd place more than even the news commentator? Yes, number 2 is successful.

      What is more successful than a child’s first steps? His first crawl maybe 😉

      Thanks Curt, I enjoyed reading your thoughts and I appreciate how you opened the conversation.


      1. In terms of fishing, it can be painfully slow. Ultimately, people have to row their own boat, so to speak. One of the greatest challenges of any development program is how to provide the necessary tools and inspiration. Or maybe how to get out of the way? –C


        1. Fishing and Development Economics, we could write another post. I agree with what you shared.

          I remember teaching my kids to lace their sneakers and make their beds. I rolled my eyes and clenched my fists in the next room as they tried to do it by themselves, sure that we would always be late as they were so slow. Now I cross my legs and sip tea, grateful for the years when I taught them to fish.


  6. Nice review! Ha! It sometimes takes me years to read a book as well. Meanwhile the book languishes on a shelf in my so called library.

    I like to read while I eat as well. Feeding my mind and my belly at the same time. Food for thought!

    “Undulating journey” is a nice turn of phrase. I like a well turned phrase almost as much as a well turned ankle.

    Helping others is its own reward. You definitely can’t take it with you, so you might as well spend it while you here on this earth. That’s for sure!

    As for tennis, I have always drawn inspiration from the Williams sisters. Any thoughts on their success?


    1. There is so much to read and so little time! Where did time go? I read every opportunity I get, lunch time is sometimes perfect. Lol@ well-turned ankle. I’m glad you enjoyed the review.

      The Williams sisters’ journey is inspiring. They had a ‘tennis’ dad like Agassi, though they celebrate the discipline he put them through. I wince when I think of Serena’s missed opportunities- she could have won more GS by now. What they’ve achieved is phenomenal and I think they have schemes in place to give back to less privileged communities. Years ago, I saw their book, Serving From the Hip, (I think). If I bought it now, would I have time to read it? Have you read it?

      “Helping others is its own reward.” And oh, what a sweet reward it can be.

      Thanks Benn!


  7. This is awesome. Some very meaty and beneficial lessons learnt here.
    “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.”
    –I love this. Just like the Einstein quote I used in one of my last posts, “Only a life lived for others is a life worth living.
    My Brazilian husband observed something very interesting. He said that it seems as if North Americans have this need for perfection. Like if something, even a holiday didn’t go perfect as planned, then it’s ruined. Now I know that isn’t speaking about a person’s ability, but it does sort of give insight into the mind-set.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Only a life lived for others is a life worth living.”

      Einstein sums it succinctly. Earlier in the comments, Nedoux mentiod learning from other people’s experience. I like to think as you do, that there’s wisdom in the quote above, and it’s worth heeding. Otherwise we might win Wimbledon, and after a few days, feel empty, empty, empty . . .

      Thanks Staci.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I dread questions like, “What are you most proud of?” and “What is your greatest achievement?” Because the answer, for me, is always, “Nothing.”

    Then I have to explain my philosophy on life, and then people think, “Why must he always analyze everything like he’s holding a scalpal and the question is pinned to a rubber tray under a bright light? Why can’t he just play the game and answer the damned question like a normal person?”

    I am an expert of nothing. I’ve mastered nothing. My accomplishments are not in any way special. I also think that of the person asking the question, but it’s not socially acceptable to say so. 😉


    1. This is the funniest thing I’ve read today:

      “Why must he always analyze everything like he’s holding a scalpal and the question is pinned to a rubber tray under a bright light? Why can’t he just play the game and answer the damned question like a normal person?”

      Because he isn’t a normal person, silly! 😉

      So now I know what not to ask you. 🙂


      1. If, for some reason, you are ever interviewing me for a job, can we agree to skip that question? In fact, let’s skip the whole interview. In place of it, I pledge: I am smart enough to learn my responsibilities and cognizant enough of expectations to get them done on time and according to standards.”

        Bam. Done. See you Monday at 9 a.m.?


        Liked by 2 people

  9. Ah Timi, this made me nod my head thoughtfully “…Some stories are not ours alone. It is the reason we should not stop telling.”

    ‘Other People’s Experiences 101’ should be a compulsory course in the University of Life.

    Thank you!


    1. Yeah, Other People’s Experiences 101. I’m grateful for the people in my life who’ve walked ahead of me and share their experiences with me. I’m also grateful for books. There’s so much to learn.


  10. Once again, you somehow mirror my thoughts. There’s a 1000-word essay sitting in my PC on how my first taste of validation as a writer earned me writer’s block for a month. Failure is often a better motivator than ‘apparent success’.

    Neil Gaiman is right on this (as he often is): The problems of failure are hard. The problems of success can be harder, because nobody warns you about them. Nobody warned me. Now I’m back writing, and it looks silly that I ever stopped.

    Sooner or later we all realise there’s nothing we can do for ourselves that can bring us as much pleasure as the things we do for other people. I hope I understand this sooner.

    Thank you for writing and sharing this.

    BTW: So Agassi doped too? I have to stay away from the memoirs of all the athletes I’ve ever loved.


    1. It’s nice to be on the same page as you. Ah, so that’s why I haven’t seen you in a while eh? I’m writing something similar also. Talking about Neil Gaiman, he says,

      “The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It’s Imposter Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.”

      Hmmm, maybe your 1000-word essay will stretch to 1,200-words? 😉 I look forward to reading it.

      As far as doping scandals go, Agassi’s is a ‘small’ one and crystal meth isn’t a performance enhancing drug. Still, it makes a question mark hang over his head . . .. A friend says, “Nothing surprises me these days. They’re all doping!”

      At some point our heroes disappoint us to some degree. How could they not, being human and all?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Timi, is there a link to where I can find these Neil Gaiman gems? Being found out as a fraud is the exact way it appears to me too–like a universal Ojuju. The thought that I might have peaked before even arriving at all makes me rethink this whole writing business.

        As for my absence, oro po ninu iwe kobo.


        1. Lol@ universal Ojuju 😀 Okay, when you resurface in writing, I will read . . .

          Here’s Neil Gaiman’s 2012 Keynote address at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. It is one I listen to often:

          Liked by 1 person

  11. Phew – at least I don’t have to worry about young success. Now if only I could find some way to test the theory for myself…
    Good post as always. Shamefully I avoid biographies, even those of people I really admire. Maybe I should give some another go?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Phew! What a relief eh? I italicized young because it can mean much more than age. It can also mean ‘sudden’ success that we are ‘unprepared’ for. There’s still time to test the theory . . . 🙂

      Maybe. Some people consider them self-serving. A well-written one not only hooks us, but also gives us insights and tit bits about those we admire. Find a short one maybe?
      @ good post, thank you Steev.


  12. I loved the book- such great writing and a compelling story. It is interesting success- what really is it, who defines it for us, and when we get there- does it really satisfy as much and if so for how long? Beautiful inquiry… and you are so right that the richest folk in the world seem to be feed by their philanthropy. Perhaps that is where the meaning happens. (Side note- I am impressed that you are up at 5 even though you don’t go to bed until midnight.)


    1. The book was the reason I slept at midnight and paid for it at dawn! I didn’t want to put it down. Don’t be impressed, I don’t consider it healthy for me, and try not to make a habit of it. 🙂 I’m excited that you loved reading it as much as I did!

      Though I’m a tennis fan, the human angle, Agassi’s quest for meaning, got me more than the tennis. Having experimented with acquiring more things (and we need some things), and not finding satisfaction, I have found that living for something bigger than me and things, makes sense. I continue to ponder the philanthropy of the millionaires and billionaires . . .


  13. At a very basic and neutral level, I reckon success is simply ‘the (progressive) realisation/accomplishment of a predetermined goal’. I include ‘progressive’ because I may well die before complete realisation, but may still be considered successful if I am on track!

    However, I believe good success begs the question of the source and motivation for my goals and further, the purity and accountability of my means/methods of accomplishment. You know; belief systems, worldviews, values.

    I once heard John Maxwell describe success as “knowing your purpose in life, living it to your maximum potential and sowing seeds that benefit others along the way”. That really helped reshape my paradigm, for both temporal and eternal goals ever since.

    I wish you and fellow readers very good success.


    1. When I hear good success, I think about success that makes you sleep easy at night and that doesn’t make you look over your shoulder at dawn. And if I hear you correctly, why we’re doing what we’re doing and how matters. I couldn’t agree more. Otherwise, I think that like Agassi, we win Wimbledon and discover that winning changes nothing.

      Thanks for sharing Maxwell’s take on success. It’s worth pondering especially when we factor in our mortality. I wish you very good success too!


  14. Amazing post – Your success in brining so powerful post!

    When a new day begins, dare to smile gratefully.

    When there is darkness, dare to be the first to shine a light.

    When there is injustice, dare to be the first to condemn it.

    When something seems difficult, dare to do it anyway.

    When life seems to beat you down, dare to fight back.

    When there seems to be no hope, dare to find some.

    When you’re feeling tired, dare to keep going.

    When times are tough, dare to be tougher.

    When love hurts you, dare to love again.

    When someone is hurting, dare to help them heal.

    When another is lost, dare to help them find the way.

    When a friend falls, dare to be the first to extend a hand.

    When you cross paths with another, dare to make them smile.

    When you feel great, dare to help someone else feel great too.

    When the day has ended, dare to feel as you’ve done your best.

    Dare to be the best you can

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mihrank, what you’ve shared is inspiring. So, I’m going to get serious about this:
      “When you cross paths with another, dare to make them smile.”

      You see, when I’m jogging, sometimes, I come across another jogger. We’ll make eye contact briefly and it seems like we’re waiting for the other to make the first move, to smile, say ‘morning, etc, and no one does and the moment slips, and we huff and puff past each other . . . .

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Beautiful piece! Increasingly, I am finding that helping others–something many will call impact–is the ultimate fulfillment. But there is something deeper I am getting to understand: how to help others or rather, how to best help others, is something that must also be learned or found through, perhaps, the looking glass of experience. This is so because we may, in our naivety, approximate the best impact to the common denominator of money. But with closer observation, better learning and more empathy, we can better understand the human condition and impact our neighbours and humanity in the best way possible.

    Thank you for this, Timi. And never stop learning new things so you can show them to us through your unique prism.


    1. They say, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. There are times when I just want to throw fishes here, there, and everywhere, go home and pat myself on the back. Teaching people to fish, takes time!

      “. . . closer observation, better learning and more empathy,” equals investing “time” in understanding what will impact our neighbours and humanity in the best possible way. This is time well spent.

      Thank you Samuel. It’s always a pleasure having you here, and you teach me something new each time. 🙂


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