General

Life is a Journey

That is the opening line and paragraph of a first person report by Naomi Osaka on 8 July 2021 when the 23-year old talked to Time magazine of her life experience in general and of her first Olympics amidst other priorities – like mental health and why sports needs to change – in particular, which would feature as the cover story of the magazine’s double story for July 19/July 29 2021 Issue over the sound byte, “It’s O.K. to not be O.K.”

Naomi Osaka is a Japanese professional tennis player, and has been ranked No. 1 by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and is the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles. She turned professional at 16 and made the top 150 on the WTA Tour match. She made the top 50 in 2016 and was named the WTA Newcomer of the Year. Time magazine has included her in the annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world in both 2019 and 2020; and most recently as the 40 must-watch Olympians in the Tokyo Olympics when she would be competing for the first time.

Osaka outlined the two key lessons she has learnt from life so far. Her lesson number one is that one can never please everyone; and her second relates to mental health purporting that everyone suffers from mental health issues or knows someone who does.

Well, “life is a journey” is somewhat synonymous as “motherhood and apple pie”. These are probably universal truths. I actually like her quote, “It’s O.K. to not be O.K.” which I stumbled on in some form when I was penning my first memoir and almost picked a derivative as the title of my autobiography. I had in mind something like, “It’s okay to be ordinary” or “Monologue of an Ordinary Man” which was exactly what my work was, but then I thought people might think I would be overtly pretentious, which I could be, but I wouldn’t want my friends to label me as such and my loved ones to live with the label.

Such could be the problems – probably the least – that celebrities need to face every day and I am sure Osaka had to face a lot of press conferences that she wouldn’t want to do. She made a distinction between the press and press conferences, making the point that she always loves the press but not every press conference or the format which she argues needs to change. Aren’t we glad that we’re not celebrities?

The OK mode or mindset, I believe, is derived from “I’m OK – You’re OK” which is a 1967 self-help book by Thomas Anthony Harris published as a practical guide to understanding and practicing transactional analysis as a life skill for problem solving. According to Wikipedia, the book made the New York Times Best Seller list in 1972 and stayed there for almost two years and is estimated to have sold over 15 million copies to date and have been translated into over a dozen languages. Harris (April 1910 – May 1995) was billed as an American psychiatrist and author and his book had made him more famous. He also wrote a sequel in the mid-80s.

When I was reading my Masters of Buddhist Studies, my Mindfulness and Stress Reduction teacher suggested that “I’m OK – You’re OK” had become sort of a cliché and people these days had developed alternatives to express their emotions; and I think Osaka’s could be a natural derivative. But my professor suggested a very good one which has since stuck in my mind, which I am rather fond of, which is, “I am an asshole, you are an asshole, but that’s OK.”

I would leave the quote as it is – take it or leave it – which I don’t think needs further elaboration. But feel free to share with me a piece of your mind.

Life is indeed a journey. One corollary must be: the journey is as fascinating and enjoyable as the traveler or sojourner makes it. The journey could be as long as he wants to make it, and the outcome depends on whom he journeys with.

Rosita had an observation about me. She said that my gregarious nature had made me many friends. These friends came and went as I journeyed through life such that as I made new friends, I often lost and forgot some old friends. I cannot disagree. I recall we often had parties at home on weekends. We had rather spacious flats mostly with huge balconies where we would permanently place one or two foam plastic containers which we would fill with plenty of ice and drinks. Parties typically ran late. There was a time when we stayed on the top floor with a rooftop garden which was conducive to partying. We bought make-shift lighting and sound equipment and took them up the roof during parties. Those were the drunken days and I often needed Rosita to remind me the morning after who were at the party. Indeed, I am a forgetful person, often unable to put names to faces or faces to names, and I do not have a good filing system after I retired from the only job I have ever had. I was blessed to have able and good secretaries throughout my career, who would have all my friends’ business cards orderly filed and catalogued, who would organize my daily appointments, set up lunches and dinners, and planned my oversea trips, so much so that Rosita had leant to call them to find out when I would have time for dinner with the family or when I would have my next business trip. Lest I might be mistaken, I am never proud of that. I would like to be as organized and systematic as some of my very good friends such as Y K Cheng who could produce a copy of the speech he delivered on me some 20 years before.

Nevertheless, I recall occasions – more than a few occasions – when I would bump into old friends and could shout out their names, full names, without prompting. I could even recall the time we last met and the places where we met. Memories are made of these, I suppose. Over time, I have chosen to meet people whom would give me a good time and avoid those who wouldn’t, that is those loud and aggressive people who are vexations to the spirit.

I hope to talk to you again shortly.

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