Winning the lottery

I didn’t know much about Yayoi Kusama until I got to learn about her life and work at her exhibition last week, currently running and sold-out almost daily, in Singapore.  I learned that we share the same birthday (she’s exactly 40 years older than me), but that’s about where the similarities end. She grew up in post-war Japan and was clearly impacted, and I would guess even haunted, by whatever she experienced there as a young woman. Her artwork speaks a lot to male dominance with phallic symbols taking center stage in much of her work. Like many artists, however, she clearly sees the world very differently from most of us, and my guess is that she’s quite a visionary.

I took the above photo of one of her paintings during the exhibition. Interestingly, we were free to take pictures of most of the art, which to me is a sign of an artist with a lot of self-confidence – they know their works of art can’t be copied. They are unique. And in this, as well as in the subject of the painting itself, I found a lesson.

Some of us, myself included, suffer from time to time from low self-esteem.  There is a voice in my head, sometimes a whisper, sometimes a scream, which tells me I’m not good enough or worthy enough for whatever. To actually be effective in life, I’ve developed strategies to both counter that voice with another, much more positive voice, as well as to send that negative voice to the back to voice queue. Yayoi’s painting was a reminder to me of how unique I am, as well as the victory very specific to my life.

Our conception, yours and mine, was at the culmination of a race between millions of cells, with the sole winner being responsible for our life. So by sheer fact that we’re alive, our unique life began with a very BIG win. That winner’s chances were, on average, something like one in 500 million, worse odds than winning the lottery.

Sadly, many of us emerge out of adolescence into adulthood with an idea we are no longer destined to win – or worse yet, that we are losers. But look for a moment once again at the painting – it shows just a tiny fragment of a race and journey which led to you. Consider all that you had already overcome and the huge win which immediately gave you life. You and I truly are one in a million. Don’t let any person or voice in your head tell you otherwise!

One of Kusama’s iconic pumpkin paintings

Chris Saye
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Chris is a family office executive, coach and writer. He is a former partner with both Arthur Andersen and Ernst & Young, and currently manages MarcWhittaker, a network of family office advisors in Singapore. He is a fluent Russian-speaker, having spent 15 years living and working in Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Chris has been married to his wife Galina for over 20 years and together they have three children and two grandchildren.

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