The bane of Meritocracy

August 28, 2012

Meritocracy is a bit like sugar. In controlled doses, it can unite flavors and bring out the very best in a thing. Doesn’t matter what it is, could well be cakes, dishes or even people. But where Meritocracy takes a wrong turn is when it’s piled so thick and heavy that it becomes the ONLY measure that EVERYONE defines personal and organizational success – when that happens that bound to blot out the field of possibilities leaving perhaps only ONE metric or measure of success that everyone aims for.

When that happens Meritocracy morphs into something less desirable. As what this corrosive logic imposes on our thinking is a binary way of seeing the world. Where we are all either successful or failures, switched on or off, team players or free spirits, with the system or against it, scholar or cookie cutter.

Unfortunately the real world doesn’t work that way at all. Life isn’t divided into neat pigeon holes of black and white. It’s not binary as it remains a polyglot of greys. And it is usually in these grey areas that we find ourselves and bring out a good thing.

A student, author, inventor or just a run of the mill cookie cutter like a policeman, lawyer, accountant or technician for instance may experience failure. That failure may even set him back a few year while his peers zoom ahead. Forcing him to improvise to try to overcome his setbacks. As a result he learns a life skill that others who never taken a fall gets to ever learn – a valuable life lesson – later on, he builds on those skills, layering them and that allows him to branch out leaving all his competitors behind.

In this simple example what we are able to see is that set backs in life play a preponderant role in character development and whole art of craving competitive advantage.

Conversely when things are going smoothly and according to plan. There isn’t actually much room for personal growth. Neither does on feel the need to depart from the tried and tested yellow brick road. Given enough time, those who have only known this corseted method of succeeding will find themselves fossilizing till they have so little to offer themselves and others that they become virtually irrelevant.

Darkness 2012


“During my averagely miserable university days. You could say I hated the world. I mean there I was trying my level best to get myself an education and on top of all that I have to hold down two shift jobs. But when I looked around me. Most students just had to study. To do one thing. I had so many things to do. So when you grow up in that sort of setting, there is bound to be alot of resentment and I guess that same attitude carries through into adulthood.

But when I think back. There are benefits to being different. For one you get really good at being different. And in many cases that difference allows you see the world slightly differently. The really funny thing about being the guy who is always peering in from the outside is you get very comfortable with the whole idea of standing all alone in the cold. You even get really used to the whole idea of believing that you’re less than a man. At that stage there is no pride yet. Only shame. As you don’t have the luxury of looking back yet. You don’t really know whether you can graduate.

It’s as if they were born into this life. But you are different. You’re an outsider. You don’t belong here. The rich students all give you that look. So do their girlfriends. You end up with only the two metric tons internal beauties. The only reason why you fuck them is because you dont have time to go to lectures. But you know these are precisely the girls who take perfect notes – there was this time just after I graduated and everyone was returning home to start looking for a job.

I took my beat up Triumph motorbike and rode it all the way to France. There was no grand design. I didn’t even plan it. One day, it just seemed like a good idea to take along my passport and ride all the way to Dover. After France I decided to go to Italy and from there branched into Poland and then Germany. Just around that time, the Berlin wall had just been torn down – there was no immigration or anything. There were just loads of people going around as if something historical had happened. There was no internet then. News moved mainly by print and TV. So I said to myself, it would be nice to see the GDR, I rode my bike into Berlin through a gap in the wall, slept mainly under bridges, worked odd jobs for petrol and food to make my way further eastwards.

Then one day, I stood before the Russian steepes – it was a solitary moment just before dawn. A paraffin dawn with speckled hues like opal. Many things were flooding through my mind. The aching beauty. It’s deafening silence. The cruelty. It was as if I was for the very first time looking at my own life through a phantom mirror. I didn’t really know what laid ahead, but the scene before exuded a delightful mystery that seemed to work a spell around me. Mystery was furiously at work.

I was drawn like a helpless moth to this tongue of lighted death. I didn’t even know how long it would take for me to ride through this sea of infinity. Not that it mattered. Didn’t even have the faintest grasp of what I had set myself to do. All I knew was I had a full tank of gas and the border guards weren’t particularly interested to ask for papers – as by then even the Soviet Union had began to crumble and discipline that once held an empire was spiralling to mass alcoholism. So I just opened the throttle wide open and tore right through Russia.

Russia changed my outlook in life in more ways than I can possibly imagine. As it took me roughly 6 months and 21 days and 3 hours and 58 secs to tranverse this large swathe of landmass through a combination of motorbike, bicycle, train and believe it or not even a sledge complete with huskies – there was this time when I was bombing down full speed across the Ukraine on my bike. I saw a couple of brigands armed with AK-47’s on horseback – when they saw me, they scampered off. As they probably thought I was out to rob them. And all I really wanted was directions to the nearest gas station. The only reason why I mentioned this was because by this time – I didn’t really look human any longer. My hair had grown very long. And I was wearing this triangular pelt hat that must have looked really strange and odd. And to cap it off I had this old rifle that I used to live off the steepes that I exchanged for my shoelaces. Believe it or not. My Nikon FM2 bought me a sledge with 7 huskies. My Casio Watch a weeks stay in a castle for a week when I took a fall in Minsk. And this you are not going to believe. My Levis Jeans bought me a car. A lada with a roofrack.

When you are travelling all alone for months on end. And sometimes you don’t even come across a soul for weeks. There was this time when I travelled nearly a whole month in the Steepes wihtout seeing anyone. It was just one long eternal litany. I just kept going. By the end of it everything I owned was either held together by superglue or duct tape. Even my tires were stuffed with straw as the tube had long sinced disintegrated. As for the engine it was running on a mixture of proof vodka and whatever I could get my hands on to just keep on moving. Finally I switched to a donkey – I bet you have all never seen green colored smoke coming out from an exhaust of a motorcycle before?

Anyway to cut a long story short – I was not afraid any longer. Fear no longer had any dominion over me. It as if I crossed a mythical line into another dimension of consciousness. One that intensely spiritual.

Till today I cannot quite describe this state of consciousness.

The curious thing was when I returned home – everything looked really small to me. I can’t really describe this oppresive sensation of being boxed in. Except to say that I found it so suffocating that I kept applying for jobs in foreign lands where the interviewer would ask me really strange questions like, “how would you react if someone pointed a gun at you?” My first real job was to build a dam in Mindanao. I was the youngest Country Manager. Not that they really had a choice. The last French engineer was shot in the head by the Moro Liberation Front or whoever. Now during that time, I didn’t think very much about it – it was just a very different job that paid out 3 times plus danger money. And I was a different guy. I didn’t mind people pointing guns at me from time to time. That happened plenty of times in Russia. So I took it. I saw alot of things, more than the average Joe. And I don’t even want to speak about it today.

To cut a long story short. One day many years later when I was much older though I can’t be sure whether I was wiser. I found myself staring at the vast expanse of the jungle – this time I had set my mind to be a farmer – and at that moment, it all came back to me – the time when I stood there surveying the vast expanse of the Russian steepes.

And once again fear had no dominion over me. I just went ahead and did my own thing. When I reflect on this. There are so many things that can be said. But I don’t think it’s something that I want to write about just yet. You see I haven’t really figured it all out yet. Don’t really even know how my life took the twist and turns it did. But if I had to pin point one reason – it has to go back to the moment of my youth, when I came to accept the idea, the notion even that I could never ever fit in like the others, no matter how hard I tried – I was different.

Only this time when I branched out into the business world. I was completely comfortable in my own skin. So comfortable that you could even say, I knew that it had finally come full circle.

That’s why when you are young – it’s best not to care too much about what others think about you. Or to even do something a stupid as to try to live your life for others. Just try to work with the idea to be perfectly comfortable in your own skin.

And this simply means just be yourself. Don’t try to be someone that everyone expects you to be – the model girlfren who can always been counted to give a one hour bj. Or model boy friend who is driving the best car in the block. But everyday eat Maggi mee. Just be yourself lah. Don’t even need to try to earn the acceptance of others by selling your individuality. Take exceptional pride in the views that you hold. You know them like the lines in the palm of your hands. You are different. Just understand that you better know how to defend them, if those views are strong. Don’t compare yourself to others. If at a certain point in time. You are lower or higher. At least the effort you put it to keep pushing on with your chin up endures. Effort maketh character. There is always something to be gained from just being there.

Even if you are a simple man and you are thinking night and day. How can I make life for myself and family better when I see no way out. You have already progressed. You are different from the rest of the men. As most men don’t think about these things – you are different like me. You know the only thing that is certain in the future is that it will be uncertain.

It is ONLY when you understand that you are different that everything just fits together very nicely and effortlessly. You see the way I see it. You were not meant to be just a faceless glob in the generic crowd. You are an individual. Don’t worry what they say isn’t really true – as the world is really large enough to accomodate every sort of man, including the man who sees himself as different from all other men. Besides you’re only passing through here once. If I write this and you read this. Think about it, it only happens in this timeline. Thereafter or before it’s really another timeline. And let me tell you something else – we are all different each and everyone of us. Even those who don’t see themselves as different are different.

Because when you think really hard about it – there is only ONE of you. No one else is like you. You are different!”

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