Saturday, 22 December 2018

The extraordinary life of Paul Allen.

Paul Allen dies of cancer, aged 65. 

That’s the end of a life, an amazing life. 

It is said that you are not enriched by what you possessed, but by what you can live without. By any measure, Paul lived with a lot of possessions.

He had investments, institutions named after him, ownership of several professional sports teams like NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, and at his passing, he had a net worth of US$20.5 billion. That places him at Forbes magazine’s 44th richest.

If you don’t know him, maybe you know the company he cofounded...”Microsoft” in 1975 after dropping out of Washington State University. 

A heartbroken Bill Gates said of Paul that he was “one of my oldest and dearest friends. Personal computing would not have existed without him.”

Paul died two weeks after “publicly revealing that the cancer he fought into remission nine years ago had returned.” He had been suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, “the incurable cancer affects white blood cells.”

For a man who never married and had no children, his sister Jody paid this tribute: -

“My brother was a remarkable individual on every level. While most knew Paul Allen as a technologist and philanthropist, for us he was a much loved brother and uncle, and an exceptional friend.”

After Paul left Microsoft in 1983, he “set up the investment firm Vulcan Inc in 1986 to manage his multibillion-dollar portfolio.” 

Everyone at Vulcan was proud of their founder. “All of us who had the honour of working with Paul feel inexpressible loss today”.

The current CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, said: - 

“As a co-founder of Microsoft, in his quiet and persistent way, he created magical products, experiences and institutions. And in doing so, he changed the world.”

If you must know more, Paul in fact “invested US$100 million to the Allen Institute for Brain Science in 2003. A decade later, he founded the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence to study the impacts on society of new technology, and the Allen Institute for Cell Science to find research for treatment of diseases.”

Lesson? Mm...just one, and this is the scoreboard of life: Death 1 Life 0. 

Why zero? Because when you are dead, how are you then alive? That’s stark reality...I know. 

But when you are alive, death is by default zero and life is really what you make of it. So, it can be 2 or 3 or my god, infinity like many realised dreams. 

For Paul, there is no doubt that he lived an abundant life, a life that touched many and continues to touch many. 

He was fortunate to have lived at a time where the flush of money comes most inordinately to those who break the mold, push the limit, risk the moment and persevere in hope - not to mention some luck along the way, because Paul’s technological savviness and entrepreneurship would be completely redundant in a largely feudal state or during the early stages of the industrial revolution where the closest thing to a microchip was in a thinly sliced fried potato. 

At 48, I have always been trying to solve this puzzle about life, about living. I have written much about it, but never came close to really understanding it. 

What makes a rich man perpetually sad, and a poor man eternally fulfilled? What causes one to be buried with hands clenched and another with hands opened? What kills a man even long before he dies a natural death and what steels a man even when he faces and overcomes insurmountable odds, the worst that life can offer? 

What is an empty big house with custom furniture as one’s closest kin and a small, modest dwelling but there is never a lack of joy, hope and resilience? How do you reconcile all that?

What is success that never seems enough for a lifetime? What is failure then that brings one closer to a success that satisfies deeply and completely? Is it truly the way of life that success is a necessary misfortune in life and it is to the really unfortunate that it comes early?

I sense in my spirit that the search like Titanic will go on and on. My life, my self, my appetites are different from yours, hers and his. My encounters, my circumstances are all different. 

And the most paradoxical thing about life is that we try our darnest to deny it. We all want to live it, yet we cannot accept it as it is. We constantly issue terms and conditions to it before we will ever live it. 

We will be happy only if we reach a certain level of success, recognition and/or fame. We will be content only if we are without needs; yet, we are tormented by the tyranny of wants that makes “needs” a necessary good. And we will be at peace only if those who hurt us or those who differ in their views from us come to their senses and ask for forgiveness (or god forbid, come to a certain misfortune).

Alas, if we are the landlord of a well-furnished mansion from the outside, no life as a tenant will ever rent it from us because it would be a living hell to reside under the roof of a landlord like us (who own or have things we are incapable of enjoying). And that is a life we would be wise to do without. 

I think I should end here with the simple words of Paul. There is never a better advice than from someone who is no longer with us but has lived a life that will always be remembered.

This is what Bill Gates recalled about Paul: “He was fond of saying, “If it has the potential to do good, then we should do it.” That’s the kind of person he was.””

Maybe that’s how we should live our life - whether we are rich or poor or middle income. We may not have the great fortune of a fortune but we can have the greatest fortune of character, that is, a life that when we die, leaves a trail of good behind. 

Alas, I may still be figuring out life as it is, but one mystery I know I have unlocked and that is this: you may die young or old, rich or poor, but the difference you make counts and it starts counting the day you live, or from the moment you read this and the many moments thereafter. 

Now, not all the good we do is unqualified or untainted. Some good achieved may be through means or intentions we may regret. But our redemption comes not from that, but from a spirit that never stop trying, learning, admitting and correcting. In other words, a life that never ceases to chase after the good despite the stumbles and falls.

That is for me the most important lesson this morning and the many mornings to come. Cheerz.

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