Many of us were raised since young to aim for the stars. To be the star. The heroes we looked up to — the Harry Potters and Fa Mulans and Captain Americas — all of them had that something special. That extra reserve of brilliance or strength that made them the chosen one.
Eventually, the idea of success seemed to solidify into something more concrete. As dated as it sounds, for a lot of us, it was about having the 5Cs, so we relentlessly pursued them with long hours and hard work. And then somewhere along the way, we realised that our idea of success — sneaky little bugger it is — had changed again.
We went around chatting with various individuals about what success and greatness meant to them, and how it's driven the choices they've made up till this day — and one of them put it so eloquently:
"The older I get, the less tangible the idea of success becomes"
What even is success? Is it even that important? Is it the same thing as happiness? Now that we're older, we look back and see how we've been taught since childhood to tie so much of our identity to our jobs (in Singapore, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" is only ever answered with occupations), and to continually chase after progress and achievement.
Even with Wormhole, it honestly can be a struggle to not feel the pressure to do and get more — but to what end, and where exactly does this pressure come from?
We've picked four books that dwell on these same questions, each in different ways: Help Your Self! goes full-on satire with a no-holds-barred take on our quest for a personal brand. The Plot follows the anguish of a has-been writer who, in a desperate attempt at success, commits the ultimate sin of being unoriginal — and then we have a family that slowly divides when half of them opt for a medical procedure that takes their productivity to superhuman levels in We Are Satellites. Rounding it off is a sweet little meditation on self-identity and what makes you in the irresistibly charming Can I Build Another Me?
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About the illustration
An alternative concept Bethania had in mind, to show the qualities our media accentuates for mass consumption, and how we are surrounded by this imagery on a daily basis.
"I wanted to represent the idea that Harry Potter was chosen not because he is special, but simply because he exists inside the claw machine"
When illustrator Bethania Brigitta started brainstorming for this theme, she found the biggest challenge was how to translate such heavy topics — of success and greatness — into something easily digestible. What ultimately inspired her was when she thought of the frustration of not winning a claw machine game. That led her down a rabbit hole of imagining how much more frustrating it might feel to be one of the toys in the claw machine. That's when she knew she'd found it: the perfect metaphor.
"Something I love about this illustration is how almost all the toys are staring at Harry Potter because he was chosen. If I were inside the claw machine, I would think "Damn it, he got chosen because he is THE Harry Potter". While that may be the case, it could simply be because Harry was just the easiest one to be picked up... which is ironic because that could be a reason for someone's success as well!"
"I feel like success is supposed to be something personal to each of us, but with all this exposure to each other's intimate lives, it gets harder to listen to ourselves"
"I found myself feeling like I have to want the success that other people want. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great to ponder different views of life. It's an ever-changing cycle, I suppose. These days, I'm trying to be present and aware of my process, rather than worrying about this so-called-success.
We'll see how it goes!"
About the illustrator
If you ever set foot in Jakarta, make sure to drop by and say hi to Bethania Brigitta (or you can call her Nia for short)! She is an Indonesian illustrator who loves to toy around with ideas and translate them into colourful illustrations. She spends her time adoring Shaun Tan, Mattias Adolfsson, Tianran Qu, and her beautifully curated Pinterest homepage.
Nia recently picked up reading as a hobby and is dying to get new friends on StoryGraph/Goodreads. She's currently digging her way through Kazuo Ishiguro's work. Drop a visit and see more of her work on her Instagram!