I’m not one to put myself down about anything. I’ve always been kind of lazy that way.
When I was growing up, my mother did her best to instill a sense of competition in us. When my brother Jack came home with a medal for coming second in the school’s 200m race, she asked who came first. The one time I scored 91 percent in my science exam – a real fluke considering I was normally hovering around the 60 percent mark for science – she pursed her lips and wondered aloud how I could possibly have missed the other nine percent. And when my sister Michelle got into Yale, her second choice after Harvard, Mother told all her mahjong kaki that Yale must have been really scrapping the bottom of the barrel that year.
Some people might think of this as child abuse at the very least – my sister being one of those people – but I’ve always thought Mother’s unique method of child rearing gave me a very real sense of my capabilities. I never grew up with any crazy idea that I was ever any good anything. All of which meant that when I was first yelled at by my boss, I barely blinked. After years of being subtly told that I was an underperformer, I was bullet proof against a tirade from my boss about my incompetence.
“I totally see your point,” Amanda said the other day at lunch. “You should see some of the juniors in our office. I mean, they don’t even qualify as strawberries. We have this Cambridge grad in my team? I asked him to redraft a contract because it had too many badly drafted clauses and he literally threw the contract back at me and walked straight to HR to complain that I was being unprofessional and a bully!”
Sharyn put down her chopsticks and pushed her thick spectacles up her nose. “Yah, the young ones today, hor, cannot make it! Any ting go wrong, sure complain, one! My time, hor, kena boss scold and scold! Got one time, hor, scold until I cry, ah! But dat’s how you become better, mah! How can I manja you twenty four seven, I ask you?”
“You can’t!” Amanda told her firmly. “If someone isn’t any good at their job, they need to be told and they should just accept it, or resign. It’s that simple. I honestly don’t have time to be dealing with your mother issues and over-inflated sense of importance!”
Sharyn’s head bobbed and down, her chopsticks pointing at Amanda. “Yah, what she say!”
And then you have people like my friend James Fung. The nicest guy to ever walk the planet, and also the most accomplished. He’s the founding partner of a huge engineering firm in Singapore. At any given time, he’s working on a dozen huge projects around the world. He works all day and yet, somehow, he has time to paint, sculpt, write big fat books, stage exhibitions of his huge canvases, and watch more TV than I do.
“How are you doing all this?” I once asked him, very aware that there was a plaintive, almost distressed quaver in my voice. “I think it’s a major accomplishment if I get out of bed in the morning!”
James shrugged. “You’ve got 24 hours in a day. There’s plenty of time! Just sleep less! I only sleep eight hours these days.”
“Eight?” Saffy said later. “He sleeps eight hours? And he does all that extra stuff in what…” She paused to work out the maths in her head, “sixteen hours?”
“Sometimes he goes home for a half hour nap!” I told her. “And he also has a personal trainer come over every day for an hour!”
Saffy frowned. “So, what, that leaves him…five hours?” she asked, demonstrating once again her unrivalled ability to do mental arithmetic.
“Don’t forget he travels like four times a month to Europe and America for meetings. He told me he works on his artwork on the plane in between watching entire seasons of ‘Friends’ and ‘24 Legacy’!
Saffy pursed her lips in dissatisfaction. “You know, normally I would just hate someone like him, but he’s just such a nice guy…and he’s Henry Cavill-cute too, don’t you think?”
“I would marry him in a second!” Amanda sighed.
“And rich, hor,” Sharyn added. “Don’t forget he oh-so very rich!”
My sister Michelle says sometimes you don’t have to look very far to find evidence that life is a rigged game.