Two erstwhile international cricketers have been in the news lately. New Zealander Chris Cairns, a former star all rounder, who is currently driving a truck for $17 an hour to support his family. And Jermaine Lawson, once hailed as one of the most exciting bowlers in the West Indies, is now playing cricket with the immigrant community in New York. Both have been accused of cheating and misconduct and were dropped by the professional cricketing world.
It’s almost unbelievable that in one lifetime it can come to this — and in five short years it’s possible to go from being mobbed by fans and signing million dollar endorsement deals, to driving a truck. Generally, when people hit the big league they accumulate enough to live in happy (relative) obscurity for the rest of their lives. You have to be incredibly stupid or singularly unlucky to find yourself at rock bottom again. In sports especially, the narrative we hear is around the grit and determination of superstars, their struggles and hard won victories — the lives of the Mary Koms and Milkha Singhs. The ones who fall by the wayside for not being good enough simply vanish into thin air never to be heard of again.
But there is a special place reserved for those who tasted spectacular success but still ended up falling through the cracks. Their stories are fascinating I suppose, because they serve as cautionary fables for our own lives.
Every bookstore is full of self-help guides and biographies of the rich and famous that we read for insights into what successful people do differently. Undoubtedly, there’s a lot to learn from those who accomplish the extraordinary, outside of the regular path. Or simply for a better understanding of the ambiguous and deeply complicated definition of what constitutes a successful life anyway.
Chris Cairns and Lawson got to the top of their game which is no mean feat but are struggling, nevertheless. A clear indication, that sometimes character is as important as talent. Maybe the next generation of self-help books will document stories like these as a metaphorical warning of the pitfalls of buying into your own aura. Popular culture, however, is replete with examples of staggering downfalls. The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the memoir of a New York stockbroker and his descent into securities fraud. The main theme of Macbeth is the destruction that follows when ambition goes beyond moral constraints.
In India, notwithstanding the scams and epic corruption, regular folk take careers very seriously and our yardstick for measuring success is very modest. In fact the old adage goes, that if you can manage to stay out of a hospital and a law court in India, you’ve led a good life. Everything is such a struggle here, right from getting your kid a seat in primary school or building a house, or even just crossing the road and not getting run over. The entire nation seems acutely aware these small privileges don’t come with any guarantees and can be snatched away at any time.nEW
To quote Narayan Murthy of Infosys from an old interview to this paper on business and ethics, “Be proactive in bringing the bad news to the investor first. Follow every law of the land. Under promise, and over deliver.”