Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Money Game

The Money Game

I met my old friend Anton in Jakarta last Friday. Anton is Indonesian Chinese but grew up from a humble background in the Karet area--a pocket of shabby dwellings in the middle of Jakarta's Golden Triangle. Whenever we meet up, he'll bring me to one of those delightful warungs which you never knew existed, sandwiched somewhere in the middle of these urban kampungs.

Anton had lost my telephone and e-mail contact but the other day he chanced upon my name in the guest register of one my clients; so he tried calling my former office and was lucky that I happened to be there. We decided to catch up over a wonderful lunch of nasi ulam with gorengan kambing somewhere in Karet.

Anton formerly worked as an engineer with a prominent local IT company but was brave enough to resign from his job to start up his own IT business. His is a story of persistence and perseverance. Over the last four years that he has been out there in the business jungle, his company has suffered enormous trials and tribulations.

Being of a trusting nature, he had the misfortune of being taken advantage of by his business partners on a number of occassions. But each time he managed to salvage whatever he could to begin anew. So far he has not achieved spectacular success yet. But with the experience and lessons that he has gained the hard way coupled with his indomitable spirit, I'm sure he'll find his pot of gold someday.

Business partnerships are like marriages--many begin with a great deal of hope and optimism but end in bitterness and anger. The closest of friends could end up as enemies. Whenever money is involved, the true nature of a person is revealed.

All of us work so hard for our money. In the process of doing so we develop a strong attachment towards it. So much of our happiness seems to be tied to money. Some people hit such depths of despair when they lose their entire fortune that they prefer to take their own life. Such is the power of attachment to money.

The businessman has to think about money everyday because the purpose of doing business is to make money. Every thought, consideration and action is tied to money; when this happens, it is very easy to be totally consumed by its apparent importance.

To treat money as evil is being unnecessarily negative. On the other hand, to consider money as the most important thing in one's life is not only negative but also dangerous. Those who do so would not hesitate to choose money over friends. Their value system has been grossly distorted.

I do business too, so I have to treat money as important--but only as a measure of how well my business is doing. Money is a metric, a score that one keeps to keep track of progress. Again, I have to resort to my favourite analogy, football, to illustrate my point. When you play football, you want to score as many goals as possible--it is never enough. Goals are fun and you celebrate extravagantly whenever you score. But when you walk out of the pitch, what matters is that you have won the match and you have thoroughly enjoyed the game.

That's how I see my work: as long as I chalk up wins--even 1-0 victories (like what Chelsea is so good at doing)--I'm happy. I'll get my 3-points and move up the league table. Sometimes when it is a 6-0 drubbing, it is a bonus. We strikers will always try to score as many goals as possible--that is a given. But ultimately you play to win, irrespective of the number of goals you end up scoring.

Making money should not be something that's so heavily-laden with emotion. Why should there be so much pride, pain, pleasure, good and evil associated with it? It is just a set of numbers displayed on the scoreboard. It shouldn't consume us to the point where we completely lose sight of what's really important in life--friends, family and the community that we live in.

So by all means play the game in the best possible spirit--playing it well and playing to win. But most important of all, we must remember, it's a game that we play to enjoy.

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