The definition of success

“I’M 19, halfway through my degree, and currently obsessed with thinking about my future.” Meld reporter Marcella Purnama thinks out loud as an unexpected meeting provokes some serious introspection as to what success looks like.

I’m 19, halfway through my degree, and currently obsessed with thinking about my future.

I don’t know why, but I was sitting on the bench outside David Jones recently and I felt like I didn’t want to grow up, at least not yet.

An old friend with her new US accent had come to Melbourne for holiday. It was another evening catch-up over coffee. That was, until her dad wanted to see me.

Her dad, looking so intellectual in his late 40s, wore a knitted black jumper and light brown cotton pants. He carried a small man bag that looked like a Louis Vuitton. He was, without a doubt, a very successful businessman.

When he approached us, he was holding a transparent bag. Inside were a pair of new white shoes with blue and red stripes. “These are Italian-made. Very good, very strong, very expensive,” he said to my friend, holding the shoes to her eye-level. To me, they just looked like another pair of white Adidas sports shoes.

“Hey Dad, this is Marcella, the one who likes coffee,” my friend said. But rather than reply with the usual, ‘Hi, how are you?’ My friend’s dad jumped straight to the point, “Oh Marcella, do you want to work for me?”

Not waiting for an answer, he added, “Let’s go inside David Jones and walk while we talk.”

Giving my friend a weird, sheepish look, I reluctantly entered the upmarket fashion store in sandals, hair whipped into a frenzy by the windy Melbourne weather and a $10 bag that had been soaked by an unexpected thunderstorm.

I immediately saw the glossy shining tiles. I felt the warmth of the bright light. I smelt the thick perfume in the air. Then it hit me. After two years of living in Melbourne, I had never actually been inside David Jones.

We went up the escalator and he started to look at men’s clothing. “I’m very passionate about retail and I want to open a cafe,” he said. “Frankly, I want you to be someone who I can mobilise in Melbourne and learn the coffee culture from. My daughter highly recommended you. She said you’re a fast learner, a reliable person and the top student back in high school.”

The words hadn’t even sunk in before he started to speak again, this time to my friend, “What do you think of this shirt? I guess I should buy two and give one to JJ.”

Shifting my attention to the shirt, whose brand name escapes me, I was sure I’d seen a similar top – the usual green-red-blue squared shirt that you might find in JayJays. But this was in David Jones and it cost $150.

“Oh, JJ is an old friend. He’s is one of Indonesia’s top interior designers and he’s really into fashion,” he said. “Our family has a lot of connections.”

Without even trying them on, he grabbed two shirts, one a medium, for himself, and the other in a large, for the man called ‘JJ’. He gave the two shirts and his wallet to my friend and asked her to go to the cashier.

“Okay, where was I? Oh yeah, I’d really like to learn more about the coffee culture here, but I have no time. My passion is retail, my plan is to open a coffee business and I’ve heard that you are very keen to learn about coffee.

“Of course, I’ll pay you and give you compensation. We can communicate through emails and Skype,” he said.

He went on to tell me about his worldwide businesses and travels with first class tickets, while his hands touched each of the merchandise and his eyes wandered through the store.

He then pointed to a white t-shirt bearing a man’s face. “This one is so beautiful,” he said astonishingly. I tried to use my deepest imagination and see the t-shirt through my artsy eyes, but it didn’t work. “And the material is so good,” he said. Well, it cost $200 and it was Dolce & Gabbana.

By now, I was thinking of my dad and how he chooses his clothing according to what he calls the ‘three Cs’ – comfortable, cheap and convenient.

When I tuned my attention back to my friend’s dad, he was rambling about the 11am meeting he had in Sydney the next day and the brand new $800 espresso machine that he “accidentally” bought earlier. I found myself secretly wishing I never become rich.

“There was an auction in Singapore several months ago,” he said. “There was this ancient coffee book that had been preserved so carefully and even wrapped with coffee beans inside – to keep the aroma alive. We ended up bidding for it. It cost $300,000.”

I tried to convince myself that this book was what successful people out there called ‘an investment’. Then again, I rarely even buy textbooks, and when I do, I prefer to buy online.

Finally, after what, for me, seemed like ages, he said to his daughter, “I’m hungry. Let’s go find Mum and have dinner.”

I followed them down the escalator. He asked me to think about it and email him my answer. Before stepping out of the building, he asked me one last question, “I heard your sister is a medical student, she must be smart, eh?”

Well, a courtesy talk, although late, was better than never, “Yes,” I said with pride, “she is the genius one.”

Then came the shocking revelation. “How arrogant,” he said laughingly. Was he joking or was he sarcastically saying that? I’d rather not know.

After two minutes of waiting for his wife, he said to his daughter, “I’m very hungry, I’ll go eat dinner first. Do you have a cell phone?” Then, facing me and shaking my hand, he said this with a smile on his face, “Think about it and email me. It’s nice to meet you.” Then, he was gone.

Still lost in thought, I sat down on one of the benches, took out my cell phone, and called my dad. As much as I want to be successful, I know I still want to be the woman who is able to wear a $10 bag and go inside David Jones with pride.

There are 9 comments

  1. Charles J Tan

    The whole time reading this, my mind’s on overdrive going, “he cannot be serious… no, really, seriously? no, seriously….”

    Thank you for sharing this unique experience. It’s the irony of life that helps us see the reality of what really matters – keeping our feet and heart close to the ground.

  2. Diane

    as much as all of us dream of living the “good life”, i don’t think this is how we imagine it to be.

    p.s. i’m sure you rocked the $10 bag in david jones. 😉

  3. Mellowdramatic

    Well written piece Marcella! I think people who place value on owning expensive things have a hole in their soul that is so large that (expensive) cars could get sucked into it!

  4. Shaun Lee

    Obviously the “tall-poppy syndrome” is well and truly alive.

    We all aspire to be successful in our chosen fields and whether or not it rewards us financially is besides the point. Is it really that evil or socially immoral to be financially well-off because you have worked hard to be where you are. And then be able to enjoy the fruits of your labour by spending how you see fit? The only objection i have is if said wealth has been attained at the cost of your fellow man and is simultaneously used to put people down.

    What i am getting from this article is that you feel personally judged from his talk about his expenditure and business success causing you to bring up your $10 bag and David Jones. Whether or not that was his intention we can’t know for sure but doesn’t the fact that he wants to share his success with you by offering an opportunity not say otherwise? I think you need to have a long hard look at yourself in a mirror and say how AWESOME you are, that we all have different paths in life, that no one should say otherwise.

    What i’m trying to say here is that it isn’t always a one-way street or black and white. People can be extremely well off but at the same time are grounded. This, you can take it from me.

  5. Charles J Tan

    The beef, really, is in the sub text of the article and how the story unfolded. Notice how the conversation was very one way. You get the feeling that the man in question never really gave Marcella a chance to speak and talk about what she really wants. I think that, is what makes him seem otherwise, not so much the wealth, although in this situation, didn’t help but add to the injury. The issue isn’t tall poppy but the plant’s attitude. We’re all the same. Wealth or not, anyone can be so full of himself that the world has no choice but to step aside and watch him wag on. That, my friend, is what separates. I think in the light of this article, the word of the day here should be, tact.

  6. DarkRed

    I think there’s nothing wrong with your friend’s dad approaching you based upon the recommendation of his daughter to consider helping in a possible business venture – that just shows he trusts the judgement of his daughter, and your friend thinks well of you 🙂

    However, often by listening to a person speak you’ll get a peek into what goes on inside his/her heart, and it does sound that this man is somewhat wrapped up in his own possessions… and his bank account. Perhaps he’s just trying to garner respect. Its really a rather sad commentary on the world we live in that a person’s respect seems to be tied to his wealth / possessions / connections.

    I agree with the earlier poster that there’s nothing wrong with being well off at all, but when that wealth twists and inflates the ego, it does get ugly.

    To the writer: I’m sorry you had this unpleasant encounter, and trust that if you can praise your sister, remember what your dad told you and are spending time thinking about the future, then you will very likely have a bright future ahead 🙂

  7. Marcella Purnama

    whoaaa, I’m overwhelmed with the responses that I get.. Thanks guys, you really make my day ;). really appreciate the feedback!

    As to Shaun Lee, I highly agree with you, that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying your labours (I also want to do that when I’m already successful!) yet as Charles said, the point that I’m making is I feel kinda intimidated by those successful people when they are not ‘that’ friendly, if you know what I mean…

    and to Dark Red, thanks a lot! It’s a good experience really, and a very big eye-opener, so I’m quite thankful for that. and yeah, actually I’ve got a really really nice friend who recommends me nicely 😉

    and to x, yeah he is rich (by the way I see it). my definition may be different than yours, but still, for me, he is ‘that’ rich.

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