Friday 10 December 2021

The Paradox Of Success


Have you noticed for every "wise" saying, there's always another contradictory "wise" saying to counteract it?

Let's use 2 examples from our 5,000 years of Chinese wisdom:

人定胜天 - I decide my own destiny!

天时, 地利, 人和 - I just got lucky!

When we are climbing UP the mountain to seek success, we can't believe in luck, destiny, and all things that suggest its pure coincidence, can we?

I mean why bother if whatever we do, its just like buying Toto? All randomness?

That's why most Chinese parents put so much emphasis on study hard and work hard! Get into brand name schools, win scholarships that sort of thing.

Its the legacy of the old Chinese Imperial Exams system that's so embedded into our collective DNA...

Its gives us "comfort" to know we can "control" our own destiny.

But in reality, we know that's not completely true... 

Some no study or got lousy grades can also become filthy rich!?

Some got multiple degrees, magna cum laude this, summa cum laude that, also like that lor after leaving school...

You can Trust but Verify at class reunions. 

What's the paradox then?

Its when we have climbed to the summit of the mountain and achieved whatever that is we call "success", the WISER ones will sing another tune.

Its self interest. Especially when we want to be liked or be happier.

These successful people will start to downplay their own efforts - those blood, sweat, and tears shed during the climb up - and put more emphasis on luck, the help others have given them along the way, grace from heaven that sort of thing...


Have you been in the company of those who are successful but feel very entitled to their success? 

Not pleasant is it? They are so full of it!

They are the ones who believed, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail..."

Its another way of saying, "If you born poor its not your mistake, but if you die poor it's your mistake!" 

Would those humble successful people you've praised a lot, and enjoyed their company with treat you like that?

Where does humbleness come from?

It only comes when we are grateful.

How can we be grateful when we think success it all due to us and us alone?

I think this is where the humble atheist and the grateful believer have a lot in common. Wink.


  1. Smol,

    My liquid portfolio gotta thank The Bernank, Tim Geithner, and JePo ... without them it'll probably be 1/4 or 1/3 the size today lol.

    My effort was the simple part, which is simply to continue believing in US & Global stocks. It's been more lucky than good! :P

    Most people who are honest with themselves will acknowledge that it's a combination of self efforts & "luck" (circumstances, choices, timing, connections, mentors etc).

    My personal anecdotal experience is that financially successful people tend to attribute more weight on their effort/ability than luck. Many of my relatives are like that. :P

    Humbleness comes when one experiences significant (sometimes tragic) setbacks despite & inspite of best efforts, AND is able to process the setbacks positively without succumbing to them, or becoming bitter.

    It's part of wisdom. ;)

    1. Spur,

      That's the paradox isn't it?

      If I believed success is due to good schools, rich parents, right connections, why would I bother trying as a HDB urchin?

      That's where the "If We Think We Can, We Can" motivational gurus come in. To break those with self-limiting beliefs FREE!

      But that's only a sugar rush. Until reality hits...

      That's why we need the ability to ownself motivate ownself - warm blooded.

      "Cold blooded" people always need others to motivate them.

      Yes, I've met "entitled" folks all my life. Like that management trainee at Robinsons who shot back at me management trainees must do housekeeping on the selling floor? (Of course she didn't finish the management trainee programme)

      Or those clueless officers during NS who thought they were more "elite" than everyone else!? That attitude quickly changed when other ranks drove bigger cars than officers during our reservist in-camps... LOL!

      Successful people who are not well-liked by their peers will often put it as jealousy from those who can't make it. And they wonder when things turn horribly wrong, why no one wants to help them?

      Agree with you.

      Pride goes before a fall. Some do learn it the "crash got sound" way.

      Just take this Wuhan virus thingy. Some businesses have failed, while some careers were put off track...

      Well, if you always say success is all on you, then "failure" how to blame others???

      Payback can be a bitch!

  2. Hi hi SmOl,

    Sorry huh, occupation hazard.

    The opposite of 人定胜天 should be more accurately depicted by

    天时地利人和 can still be someone attributes to someone's patience and preparness for the stars to be aligned, or most of them to be aligned.

    U know, if u ask me, the potential of a kid, I would say "motivation" is a very big determiner. There are kids who learn well without supervision, offline or online, with rewards or without.

    There are those who refused to drink despite forcing their head into water.

    I believe most of people with have either 天时,人和,地利

    Aligned at some point of their time

    Some have better hands some have worse hands, but very few, as least in the case of Singapore, where u can say I have none of the three aligned my whole life.

    Then... Is both, u need luck and readiness

    1. Sillyinvestor,


      Your China more powderful; I defer to you ;)

      The essence of my post is in your last sentence!

      There are those who are unwilling to embark on the first step as everything has already been pre-destined as according to our horoscopes... Or they were never as "lucky" as others...

      Then there are those will only bother if its "passive"!? Which is another way of saying they don't want to do any preparations on their part... Its too hard or takes too much effort...

      Want windfall but too cheap or too lazy to get their own Toto tickets people.

      Then there's the opposite end of the spectrum where we are where we are today as the result of:

      Right time; right place; (meeting) right person

      That's why I chose 天时, 地利, 人和 ;)

      "人定胜天 - I decide my own destiny!" is very useful when we are climbing up the mountains despite the slings and arrows of naysayers.

      But once we have reached the summit, it takes wisdom to thank the heavens for good weather, thank the Shepas for carrying your load, thank those who have left markers on mountain trail before you...

      If not, if we are too conceited or take ourselves too seriously, the journey down the mountain can be quite lonely...

  3. Ah ... Smol

    I agree that when climbing up mountain, one needs to have the mindset of 人定胜天。。

    For those who think they own all the success and come down the hill lonely,
    They very unlikely will think they might have been a tad too arrogant but instead think they 无敌就是寂寞的

    1. Sillyinvestor,

      That's when the realisation hits them, "What's the point of success if we have no one to share it with?"

  4. 爱拼才会赢

    But still need 30% sky fate.

  5. No study or lousy grades become filthy rich are just outliers. Most good grades or scholars are annual millionaire employees if they prefer to work for others.

    Did we notice any snake oils selling Get Rich courses saying combination of Luck and Skills are important to your success? No! It is always Skills that matters! I can. You can! Plenty of testimonials of "They can. You can!"

    In the community of investors; it is no difference from class reunions; there will be testimonials of lousy grades becoming very rich!

    Nobody can teach us how to get lucky. Need go temple to get Lucky Charms!

    1. CW,

      To be outliers, no study or lousy graders have to FIRST believe destiny is in their own hands ;)

      Majority don't even try in the first place.

      Snake oils peddling investing/trading success are actually "motivational gurus" in disguise. The only good they do is to give their flock an endomorphin high that won't last...

      Money is made when their flock keeps coming back for more "fixes" through one masterclass after another...

      When we can ownself motivate ownself, we are no one's bitches ;)

      That's why its a paradox. To succeed, we cannot believe in luck, horoscopes, destiny, paper qualifications, connections, silver spoons; etc.

      But when we succeed, if we are humble and grateful, we say we merely got lucky or just blur blur stood on the shoulders of giants before us.


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