December 7th, 2006
It was perfect clockwork.
Every year the mom took (dragged) my sister and I to her holiday company party where we would take painful pictures that looked like this:
Which, I’ll be honest, I only got my sister’s permission to use this pic by agreeing to follow it up with a recent pic, furthermore proving we no longer wear butterfly print dresses with a velvet trim that we excruciatingly paired with floral hair ties.
So anyway after snapping a pic that will forever be framed in my mother’s office for reasons unknown, we entered the main dining room that looked like this:
And were assigned to a Table 14 that looked like this:
And as I rummaged through the buffet selection and ran far, far away from things that looked like this
I didn’t realize that upon returning to my table I would soon be entranced in a conversation that I would find myself remembering even 6 years later.
“Can we sit here?”
I looked uP. It was an older couple. He was dressed in a expertly crafted suit with gold embroidery on his chest pocket. She was in a long black gown and wore a floral scarf that elegantly draped around her neck.
“Yes, yes of course, please sit down.”
Youngsook was exchanging work-place banter with the couple on the latter side of the table whilst my sister was face deep in gourmet mac and cheese leaving me absolutely sola in welcoming the new guests to our earlier claimed table.
I asked them what they did. Where they were from. And if they thought the shrimp appetizers in buffet room #3 looked as questionable as I did.
He was a doctor. She was sales woman. They were from the area and agreed that the shrimp appetizers were a bit intimidating, but for sure ate 4 of them on their way back to the table. They went on to talk about the weather, some stories about the olden days, a mention or 2 about the economy, their vacation to Rome blah blah bl-
Suddenly we were interrupted.
Another couple had approached the table and began to say this
“I am so sorry. I did not mean to interrupt. But you’re that baseball players parents, aren’t you???”
They nodded and smiled and said yes, yes they were.
“Oh wow. Your son is just incredible. I just…can you just tell him that we think he’s really talented? We’re so honored to meet you and we’re just…we’re just his biggest fans! And we just really wanted to come over and tell you that.”
They said they would relay the message and thank you so much for stopping by and as soon as the couple left the table I casually looked over at them and said
“So wait wtf?”
The laughed. Told me their son was the current pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. That they were very proud of him, and that these encounters were becoming more routine than they ever had been before.
Well this is excellent news. I’m listening. Let’s keep talking. They were modest. Didn’t elaborate much. But no matter, I’m the master of elaboration and happy to take the task on for them. And so I did. Told them I thought it was incredible. That they created an American dream. A happy kid with a successful/already successful future. That it must feel nice. To have a kid. That was so much more successful than everyone else.
The woman in the long black gown and floral scarf stopped me. Looked at me and said.
“There are a lot of successful people out there Olive, just some are more publicized than others.”
She told me that she was proud of her son, yes. But the saddest misconception she’s heard that comes along with his fame, is that so many people compare themselves to him, his TV appearances, his stats, his personal life and his uniform. Thinking that things like that were what defined a successful life. That these days people have the unfortunate idea that if you’re not making a music video, gracing the big screen, writing a best seller, performing a smash hit, or breaking athletic records, well then you’re not successful…or at least not as successful as them. And then she told me a story
“The other day I was with one of my girlfriends and we were out to brunch and she told me, like I’ve heard many times before, ‘your son is so successful. I wish my son was as successful as yours.’ I asked her what she meant and she told me that her son was a business man. Performing the classic 9-5. But he wasn’t sliding into home plate and his name wasn’t on the back of a jersey.
“And you know what I told her, Olive? That that was ridiculous. That if he was happy, and if he was doing exactly what he wanted to do, or was at least content doing it, then he was just as successful, if not more successful than my own son. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen fall in the spot light. And if there is one piece of advice I could ever give you it’s to never ever measure success in comparison to anyone else. I know we’ve established some type or definition in our heads of what it means to be successful but to me? The single-mom who somehow made it work? Successful. That guy over there who started his own business with no money in his pocket? Successful. Your mom’s friend who went through the entire process of medical school and ended up being a financial adviser instead because it made him happier? Successful.
But the thing is.
You’ll never see them on TV. But it doesn’t take away, not one bit, from any. single. thing. that they’ve accomplished. So thank you for your compliments, and I’ll be sure to relay the message, but just remember success is a personal definition and not to be fooled by fame, money or praise.”
And just like that we were interrupted by another couple
And another family
And 6 other bystanders
Complimenting their son
Their extremely successful son
And between each encounter and after everyone had settled down, there really wasn’t much more to talk about. She said everything she needed to say. And pretty soon the CEO stood up to make a toast and thank us all for coming. That it was nice to have us all. And he was proud to work with such a devoted and successful group of people. And I guess it really wasn’t until I sat there at Table 14 that December that I realized maybe, I would be successful one day, but on my own accord, in my own way and how I never really thought that self-defined success existed, until just now.