Telling a story with one picture

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I saw this photo on reddit today, and then discovered that it’s been shared hundreds of times. I have not found an original source, nor a definitive description, but the words most associated with the image tell the story of a poor Philippine farmer who sacrificed much to put his son through college. Upon graduation, the son expressed that his father was his greatest pride. Some captions indicate that the boy’s mother died in childbirth.

As mentioned, I can’t verify any of that [1]… but the picture seems genuine, and doubtless represents the efforts that millions of parents around the world have made to ensure that their children have a better shot in life than they did. It speaks of love, devotion, and sacrifice, and warms my heart beyond description.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

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[1] Note: if anyone who happens to read this knows of the original source or background for this image, shoot me a comment and I’ll update the post.

Reaching for the brass ring

In modern English, “grabbing the brass ring” or getting a “shot at the brass ring” means to go for the gold, or to strive for the best possible reward. The phrase has been found in dictionaries as early as the late 19th century.

MiPTEwI

 

Coney Island, 1958, photo by Harold Feinstein

The phrase originated with carousels in the late 1800’s; according to Wikipedia:

 “A brass ring is a small grabbable ring that a dispenser presents to a carousel rider during the course of a ride. Usually there are a large number of iron rings and one brass one, or just a few. It takes some dexterity to grab a ring from the dispenser as the carousel rotates. The iron rings can be tossed at a target as an amusement. Typically, getting the brass ring gets the rider some sort of prize when presented to the operator. The prize often is a free repeat ride.”

I grew up in New York in the 50s, and the first carousel in Central Park was opened in 1871. The current one, the Friedsam Memorial Carousel, was  installed in 1950, but I don’t ever recall a brass-ring device; if they ever had one, it must have been removed earlier before its relocation from Coney Island.

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It’s a great analogy for life. To get that brass ring, you have to stretch, to reach out, to take a risk. Those who sit on the inside, or who watch that little dispenser go by ever turn without reaching for it, will never know what it means to succeed, or even to fail while trying.

Finding our dreams in life is often difficult because we’re too busy living our fears, but one thing is certain: reaching for the stars will always get us farther than sitting in the mud.

steve-jobs-quote

Go ahead. Reach for the brass ring.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Some things just deserve to be shared.

I found this by chance over on Reddit, serendipitously, without looking for it, in a random discussion about Portland, Oregon. There were a lot of humorous comments – the article had to do with a dispute between passengers and a cabdriver, but then the conversation drifted into the nature of Portland as a city.

And then this gem popped up, written by /u/fwaht. I’ve corrected one or two things for spelling and style, but it’s otherwise unedited. The added emphasis is mine.

The “Successful” Person

If you’re what society calls a “successful” person, then you’re probably making more than two standard deviations above the mean, and you probably have a family. And you’re probably working a 9-5 job, or something like it, where you spend roughly ⅓ of all the waking time you’ll ever have doing it. And your employer wants your best time, the time where you’re most energetic and willing to get things done. Your other time is probably spent in a lethargic daze staring at a television (and as you age it gets worse). And why are you watching television instead of doing something you can look back on in ten years be proud of? Because only unsocialized losers haven’t seen the latest episode of American Idol or the latest sports event.

The average company is not run as a meritocracy. If you were a boss, would you want to see the person that quietly does excellent work and all but ignores you and everyone else get the promotion? Or would you want your “friend,” the guy that talks with you about football and your kids and makes you happy, to get the promotion even though he doesn’t do such great work?

No, you need to play the game. Most every business is its own Machiavellian-themed nightmare or kingdom depending on the ease with which corruption and deception and social lubrication comes to your character (and if it doesn’t come to you easily, then you will fall behind those that are better at it).

And what do you win after having beat this game? Retirement? You mean 10-20 years of low-quality life where you have the freedom that you could have had all your life if you chosen a life of less responsibility, of placing less importance in what’s expected of you than trying to do what you’ve always really, really wanted to do. Did you need those new cars, that large house and expensive furniture, the expensive meals, and so on and on? No, they made you happy for a short while, but then you just slid back into normalcy – you were on a hedonistic treadmill. Here you are, 60 years old, with all sorts of aches and pains, and remembering the senility your parents drifted into around this age. Remembering how you wished they just died quickly while feeling your intelligence diminish every year as it has since you reached 50.

And on your deathbed, what are you going to look back on and be proud of? Your children? They will die soon, and so will their children. In a short while you’ll be long forgotten as they will, and any trace of your genetic legacy will have disappeared – you aren’t Genghis Khan. Nothing of you will remain. And why should you care about such a thing after you’re dead anyway?

The “successful” person has sculpted their future and life into a hell worse than the one given to Sisyphus, and yet as miserable and meaningless as they are, they still come to think they’re better than others somehow.

While this may sound a bit negative, it’s a very accurate distillation of business and working life, and a wakeup call to those who find themselves on the treadmill. This would be a good place to share another good tidbit I found while surfing around:

Dream

In the United States, it’s getting harder to build a successful business or enterprise on a shoestring; increasing regulation, coupled with the consolidation of wealth at the highest levels, has made it more challenging to get off the treadmill than it was for great-grandpa who started life manning a vegetable pushcart in Little Italy in 1900. Harder, but not impossible.

If a person is really interested in success that lasts, they won’t be able to measure it by the standards found in Corporate ‘Murica. From where I sit, true success can only be measured by the number of people one has served, and the level to which one has raised the human condition. Efforts of this nature will ripple through time, whereas the accumulation of stuff and the generation of progeny who will walk in the same corporate rut will, as fwaht has noted, be forgotten within a span of time so short as to be insignificant in social terms.

I am proud of my children – each of them is looking for ways to make a difference rather than to die with the most toys. It’s not easy, but keeping one’s eye fixed outside the societal box of corporate norms is the only way to ensure that one’s efforts count for something after our bodies have returned to dust.

The Old Wolf has spoken.