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  • Writer's pictureCarlos Alba

No! you can’t achieve anything if you just put your mind to it

Do you believe that every morning is brighter and sunnier than the last; that simply getting out of bed is a special gift – another golden opportunity for you to be a better person and to make the world a more joyous and fulfilling place?


No, nor do I and anyone who says otherwise is asking to be stuffed, head-first, down a manhole, and invited to lunch on their soon-to-be severed genitalia.


That is not to say that I am unhappy with my lot, but you get to a certain stage of life where you accept the world for what it is,


The truth, though painful for many to admit it, is that if you haven’t made your mark by your 50th birthday, then the chances of it ever happening are vanishingly thin.


I appreciate this runs counter to the prevailing orthodoxy at corporate training sessions where we are encouraged to gather in a happy clappy circle, chant infantile aphorisms about how anything is possible if we just put our minds to it and sing Kumbaya.


Of course, it’s true that Sir Winston Churchill was 65 when he became Prime Minister and single-handedly won the Second World War, changing the course of history for future generations.


But for every Churchill, there’s a million Nigel Farages, Pritti Patels or Suella Bravermans who are just killing time, waiting for the stars to align in their favour before finally hitting the career jackpot.


Then there are those like Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Truss, who suddenly find that fate has wildly over-promoted them, thrusting them into positions of seniority for which they are woefully unprepared and it all backfires horribly.


Joe Biden, may have been 78 when he was inaugurated as US President, but he now needs to be sat in a high-chair and spoon fed when it’s time for his din dins.


It’s no disgrace to admit that, at a certain age, we reach an accommodation with ourselves that, perhaps, our finest days are behind us.


This is when the calculus of success comes to be measured, not by the scale of our own achievements, but rather – how can I put this delicately? – by the failure of others.


There is nothing quite like the warm glow of indignant vindication when a hated cabinet minister is forced to resign, or when a fat cat’s superinjuction fails and his smug, sex-pest face is plastered across the tabloid front pages.


Who hasn’t watched a useless colleague scale the ranks in a gilded career, powered by nothing but luck, unction, and a nerveless willingness to piggy-back on the talent of others, and then revelled in their demise when they are eventually found out?


We traditionally associate such feelings with the German ‘schadenfreude’ – from ‘schaden’ (damage) and ‘freude’ (joy) – perhaps from a wartime belief that only the vile Bosch could have the technocratic mentality, firstly to conceive of such a phenomenon and then to put a name to it.


And, while it’s true that English has struggled to adopt a single word for this delight in others' misfortune, we appear to be an exception.


A Japanese proverb states that ‘the sweetness of misfortune in others' lives is akin to honey.’ The French refer to it as joie maligne – a sinister delight in the troubles of others – while the same feeling is known in Danish as skadefryd; in Hebrew as simcha la-ed; in Mandarin as xìng-zāi-lè-huò; and in Russian as zloradstvo.


The Romans spoke of malevolentia, while the Greeks, even earlier, used the term epichairekakia (literally epi, over, chairo, rejoice, kakia, disgrace).


Seeing our energy and food bills rocket; being unable to find an NHS dentist; or sitting with elderly relatives for 10 hours, waiting for an ambulance to arrive, are made slightly more tolerable by the knowledge that the politicians responsible will be collecting their P45s in a matter of months.


None of that kind of thinking is suitable for social media or corporate role-playing which demand a resolute adherence to unalloyed positivity.


Perhaps I am the one who’s off-beam. I mean, who’s to say someone who’s spent the past 20 years sitting in a booth of an NCP car-park getting paid for watching porn can’t become secretary general of NATO if he only puts his mind to it?


Or that I could yet become the Premier League’s top scorer if I only gave up the Pringles and left the couch?


Well, there are actually quite a lot of sensible people who don’t rely on flip charts and books on ancient Chinese wisdom who would agree with me. 


In the meantime, I’d like to get on with my life, relying on good, old-fashioned scepticism to get by and enjoying the small victories when they come.

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