Lessons from an alcoholic
It is not always the lives of successful people who teaches us great lessons. If you look closely at the people who fail, you will get to learn some very valuable lessons. Day 16 of “One Day, One Blog” — a challenge I set for myself for the month of January 2019.
This is a real life story. Before I start the tale, allow me to establish the characters in this narrative.
A young male entrepreneur: A family friend and someone who hails from the same village as my ancestors.
An alcoholic who is no more: He belonged to the previous generation. And as with people in small villages we both refer to him as “uncle” and I think we ( the young entrepreneur and I ) were also related to him by marriage.
And then of course, there is me — mentor plus agony aunt to the young man.
Last week, I met with the young entrepreneur. I was on a trip to my native place, bidding farewell to relatives before the impending relocation.
Despite a lot of talent, a lot of hard work and staying committed to the cause for a long time, he has not made it big. Yet.
To say that he was down in the dumps will be an understatement. I did not want to offer empty platitudes. For most of the time, I just listened to him and nodded with understanding.
A little while into the agony-aunt session, he shared a deep worry with me.
He started talking about the second character I mention above — the “uncle”. We were both very fond of him. He still remains a poignant memory.
This uncle had wasted his entire life chasing one elusive treasure after the other. Every summer vacation, I would hear of his current scheme, the next big thing that will launch him into the stratosphere of the rich and famous.
Summer vacations came and went, I graduated, a few years later my young friend graduated. I left Kerala for work and higher studies and the annual pilgrimage to visit grandparents became even lesser.
The “uncle” became a name I heard when Dad or Mom spoke of his current whimsical pie-in-the-sky story.
In my memory this man was a fun guy whom we children loved spending time with. He was generous even if he was going broke — he always had time for a good joke, an ice lolly was guaranteed if he was around when the ice cream vendor passed by in the hot summer afternoon.
While reminiscing the good times, my young friend expressed his real worry. What if he ended up like the “uncle”?
What if entrepreneurship was not for him? And what if his entire life went by while he was chasing his dream ? What if he just keep trying and trying and never makes it?
I was truly surprised when I heard what was the root cause of his worry. Clearly the young entrepreneur did not the old man well at all.
While it is really bad to speak ill of the dead, I realised that I had to set the record straight. And perhaps I was the only one who could do it as I know the pangs of entrepreneurship and I am a decade older than the young guy — which made my recollections of the “uncle” more accurate.
I had thought a lot about sharing this with a wider audience. I decided to go ahead as I feel that there is a lot in this man’s life that we can all learn from — a lot of important things that we should take great care NOT to do.
Let me summarise the key issues here:
- The missing 20%: The old man/”uncle” was very hardworking but the last 20% was missing. He once lost an incredible amount of money of his employer as he was just careless and left the bag behind in the train( this was in the early 90s — so the retailers still collected large amounts of cash. Now as well as I know this person I can assure you that he would not have done anything fraudulent with the money. He was very very honest. And very very careless
- Spending money that you don’t have: Of course, this is a very serious middle class problem. We borrow on cards and personal loans to spend on holidays and to buy luxury items. I was in my teens when the “old man” got married. I recollect a conversation between the elders about the money he was borrowing to conduct the wedding in style. Even as a child, I wondered why he was doing this? Especially when this person did not have a monthly income to payback the loan in the near future. I also remember the numerous family holidays he would organize on borrowed money.
- Seeking solace in alcohol: Every failure was “faced” with a bottle of alcohol. He drank and drank everyday. I recollect when my Dad went through tough financial times — the 1st thing he stopped was his social drinking and having guests over — just to live within his means. In the recent years I have done extreme cost-cutting to support the entrepreneurial dream. Not just me — anyone with a big dream sacrifices a lot in the journey. The strong people I know stay away from alcohol and other temporary “highs” when they have an insurmountable problem. It is the week ones who find solace in alcohol
- Religion without spirituality: This uncle was a very religious man. Every important religious date in the calendar was followed diligently. He knew a lot about rituals and what prayer to offer and which God to appease. Each time his endeavor failed, he blamed God. He was filled with bitterness when others succeeded. At this point in his life, I had started feeling very sorry for him. As young as I was, I recognized that the purpose of religion is to help you evolve spiritually and to give you the strength to keep moving forward. You can say all the “mantras” in the world but if you keep filling your life with grudges and bitterness at other people’s success, you will never progress.
- The fault lies in the fate : After God, the blame was placed at the feet of FATE. The stars one was born under, the time of birth, the sins committed by ancestors — if you look everywhere else but within yourself to see where you went wrong, rest assured you will be stuck in this quagmire for eternity. It is a sure shot sign this person will never come out of his problems.
I assured my young friend that he was nothing like the old man we both knew. We remember him for this fun and joy he brought to our vacation days but his life was an example of what NOT to do.