I have recently attended a Strategic Planning for one of the voluntary board I am working with and for our first exercise, we were asked to pick a picture from about a 100 different choices that depicts how does success look like at the end of the day.
While everyone has deep wisdom that went along with their picture of choice, I've chosen a photo of a ninja in bowing position, kneeling and almost kissing the floor.
Back where I come from, the ideology surrounding success is based on material status and symbolism - the capital letter suffixes into ones names, the size of ones house, the brand of ones cars and even clothes ones wear, and all the things that could be appraised for value. The more expensive ones taste, the higher the heirarchy in the society. For a country that has a higher cultural context, this is the norm.
But I have always been taken aback when describing the word, success. My thoughts always circles back to my father's wisdom that success can only be felt but not measured. In his own words, "Success is like an inner ninja! Anyone who achieves it will feel the flow of peace and stillness from the sound of a ravaging water". How? I actually have not thought aloud. It is a logic that has a substantial context.
Growing up, my sister and I would always ask our dad to tell us the same bedtime story over and over about Ibong Adarna, a 16th century Filipino literature of a mystical bird whose singing voice could heal, yet could make one fall asleep and turn into stone.
The story revolves around the journey of the the dying King Fernando's princes, Pedro, Diego and Juan. Their individual journey through the treacherous Mount Tabor to reach Piedras Platas, where the magical bird nested is gruelling and bittersweet. Their purpose is to capture the bird, bring back to the Kingdom of Berbania and get it to sing to their father's healing.
The older princes, Pedro and Diego faced the same unlucky fate in their respective journeys and got mystified to sleep by the magical bird, turning them into stones. Their only hope to coming back to life is for the youngest prince Juan to capture the bird without falling into the same fate
The story ended up with the youngest prince catching the bird, saving his brothers lives but power, greed and betrayal consumed the older princes. They beat Juan and left him for dead in a well.
Upon the return of the older brothers to the palace, the king's sickness worsened and the bird refused to sing. Miles away, a wizard heard the agonizing cry of the youngest prince coming from the well. The hermit healed him and sent him back to the palace.
When Juan returned to the kingdom, the mystical bird started singing and King Fernando was healed. It was then that he realized the perfidiousness of his two oldest sons to the youngest prince, and was ready to banish them but Juan choose his peace and asked his father's forgiveness for his brothers' deceit.
The story continued with more plots, twist and turns but this is the part where my sister and I ask our father to tell in repeat mode almost every single night. Of course, there are differing versions to this literature, which Myles A. Garcia wrote in detail in the digital magazine, Positively Filipino.
Going back to how do I picture success at the end of the day, the insight of peace as an ultimate choice is a sweet revenge for the battle someone fought against time and other elements. Like the picture of a ninja that I have picked, the story of the young prince Juan could easily manifest strength and humility after a long battle. It would really have been easy for him to let his father banish his brothers but he managed to chart his own course and his motivation to do greater good and live a more meaningful life of forgiveness and peace outpowered his vexation. Juan is a perfect epitome of Nicole Lipkin's description on how true humility breeds confidence, the kind that doesn't need to boast accomplishments, be the loudest in the room - the one who's always right - and take credit for every success.
In the dark and cavernous well, I can imagine Juan looking up at the sky rather hoping that his father would be healed soon more than fighting for his own life. And yet in the midst of his traitorous ordeal, he choose the path of peace, bowed down to his king and in meekness he asked for pardon for his deceitful brothers.
Like a ninja who has been toughened in battle, success is more than just a story of a warrior's triumphant return from conquering the enemy line. Success is more than counting casualties and blowing the victorious horn after the smoke subsides. Success is the silent sound of sweet strain that plays when you go home and swing the door open to your overly excited kid and equally enthusiastic dog running to hug you. It is that quiet lullaby that relaxes you when you retire to bed at night beside your love one.
It is the tranquil moment that the next sunrise brings when you open your eyes and realize you have laid everything on the line and you are in harmony with the world, you are one with nature and you are at peace with yourself. It is that cheerful touch of fresh morning air that touches your face which reminds you have got nothing left to offer than a gesture of gratitude by having your knees touch the ground and tipping your chin up at the sky in loyal devotion.
I once read a definition of success by Missy Yost that says, "Success is losing a few battles to help you win a war." It resonated through the journey of Juan from the old bedtime story that my father read time and time again.
In retrospect, maybe this is my dad's recipe to success - retell the story in the same old passion that the Adarna sings her tune. My sister and I are princes Pedro and Diego, whom the Adarna croons to a hypnotic lullaby and put to doze, and our warmhearted mother is the young prince Juan who wakes us up in the morning after a safe and sound sleep. Perhaps the best picture of success at the end of the day- a family that is like the book of Adarna, attached together, connected by a good aged story and bookended by our values.