A man, presumably in his mid 20s walks into a coffee shop, empty except for the owner who is working behind the counter.
Alex: I need help.
Frederick: Most of my customers do, but they just settle for coffee instead.
Alex: I’m serious. I need help. I don’t know how to be happy.
Frederick: Could I get you a cup of coffee? That tends to make things much better very quickly, you know.
Alex: I can’t be bothered with coffee right now. I’ve realized that my whole life has just, just completely changed.
Frederick looks Alex up and down, carefully criticizing his appearance
Frederick: Your entire twenty-something years of life? How unfortunate; in this day and age that would mean you’ve already experienced the rise and fall of two whole social networking sites.
Alex: Will you help me or not?
Frederick: Have I told you already that most of my customers are much more intent on getting a cup of coffee rather than finding happiness?
Alex: Fine, fine! I’ll buy a cup of coffee, but you have to help me now that I’m buying something.
Alex throws some money on the counter, Fredrick looks at it, picks it up, and turns around to begin making a cup of coffee. Alex sits down in a nearby chair.
Alex: Let me introduce myself. I’m Alex, Alex Grant, and up until today, I’ve been perfectly content with the life I’ve been living. I grew up in a happy family – well, as happy as it could be, really (you see, my father, he wouldn’t be described as the most loving person, I suppose, and my mother, bless her heart, she had married perhaps a bit too young and there had been a rift between them ever since they were married and that, I suppose, affected their relationship with me, but I digress)—, I was accepted into the prestigious _____ University, studied finance (although I have to say I actually enjoyed my history courses more than those boring finance lectures, but what can you do, there are jobs out there that I need to be qualified for), got a fantastic job at _____ Corp., looked like I was headed in an upward trajectory at my company (really, it’s just so rare that someone as young as me – I’m twenty four, by the way – even has a position that I have), and –
Frederick comes over, places coffee in front of him. Alex stops briefly and observes him do this, but does not thank him. Frederick walks back behind the counter and remains standing.
— and, and… where was I? Oh, right, how I just had this bright future ahead of me at my company, but several months ago, I woke up one day, and, I don’t know, I just didn’t feel the same way that I usually felt. I no longer felt happy with the way everything was in my life.
Frederick: Quick question, completely irrelevant to all this – does Yelp by any chance have this location listed as a psychiatrist’s office? Just out of curiosity.
Alex suddenly gets up, slightly startling Fredrick.
Alex: I know this is random and this might not exactly be the best place to seek help for my problem.
Frederick: (Well I’m glad we at least agree on something)
Alex: I’ve turned to everyone, and they’ve been of no help. Sometimes, the anonymity and disconnect of a stranger is more remedial than the counsel from the closest friend.
Frederick: (Thinking) Perhaps. Okay, okay, fine. But have you tried everyone? Do you have a significant other you could talk to?
Alex: Of course! I can’t show up to our company parties simply by myself. If I want to be respected and considered by the higher-ups, I have to showcase my potential to get with the best of the best. A single man, or even worse, a man with an unattractive girlfriend, sends the wrong message.
Frederick: I’m certainly glad to hear that. And she was of no help?
Alex: We don’t have the best connection, so to speak. Sure, the sex is fantastic, because she does most of the work and I just lie there – she just can’t have enough of me, you know?— but we sometimes have trouble communicating.
Frederick: Ah. For example?
Alex: Dinners are relatively quiet.
Frederick: How quiet?
Alex: We don’t talk too much.
Frederick: As in, not enough to the point where you could bring up your problem?
Alex: Well, to be frank, we don’t talk during dinner. Or any other meal, really… But we actually did talk about her weekend shopping spree two weeks ago.
Frederick does not say anything but raises an eyebrow.
Alex: Oh don’t judge me like that.
Frederick: Will you please just sit down first?
Alex realizes he had been standing the entire time, sits down.
Frederick: Is your girlfriend very attractive?
Frederick: Naturally. The Great Equalizer.
Alex: The what?
Frederick: The Great Equalizer. Beauty for women and money for men. Any flaw the person has is negated by the Great Equalizer. A man who is filthy rich will always find someone, regardless of how otherwise unattractive he may be, physically or personality-wise, and a drop-dead gorgeous woman will always find a man that will overlook any undesirable traits, however detrimental, she may have.
Alex: That’s a little ridiculous. I think you’re being a bit harsh.
Frederick: What a coincidence, I think I’m being too lenient.
A lull in the conversation. Frederick stares at the coffee he had made for Alex, but Alex has not looked at it, much less touched it.
Alex: I’m successful.
Frederick: Are you?
Alex: Of course I am.
Frederick: You seem to assume that without putting too much thought into it.
Alex: Why wouldn’t I be considered successful? I graduated from a prestigious university, I have a high-paying job, I’m dating a smoking hot girlfriend, I just bought a brand new Beamer – I’m the envy of all my friends and colleagues.
Frederick: You never answered my question.
Alex: What? Yes I did.
Frederick: No you didn’t. I asked you if you were successful.
Alex: And I told you, yes I am.
Frederick: No, you told me that you were considered successful. You never affirmed that you were successful.
Alex: Is there a difference?
Frederick: Isn’t there?
Alex: You’re just trying to confuse me.
Frederick: Do you feel like you’re successful, or do you simply feel successful because you’re considered successful?
Alex: (Thinking) I’m successful. Yes, I feel successful.
Frederick: So how come you’re unhappy?
Alex: Oh, I don’t know. Success and happiness don’t always go hand in hand.
Frederick: And who told you that?
Alex: No one. Well, real life examples. Kurt Cobain, for example.
Frederick: Ah, a drug addict who killed himself with a shotgun to the head. That’s how I envision success, as well.
Alex: You know what I mean. The guy was a rock legend. He’s still adored and worshipped, and people continue to listen to his music!
Frederick: He’s considered a success. He made it.
Frederick: He blew his own brains out. Does someone who considers himself a success blow his own brains out?
Frederick: If you actually considered yourself successful, you’d be content with yourself. You’d be genuinely happy with how your life has been so far. You would find yourself a success, regardless of whether or not you were considered a success. Success should start from within and work its way out, not the other way around. You can be considered the most successful man in the world, and if that success hadn’t come from you believing that you’ve been a success, what good does it do? What good did it do to Kurt Cobain?
Alex: I don’t agree with what you’re saying, but I can’t think of any good counterarguments right now.
Frederick: Your coffee’s getting cold.
Alex: (Ignoring Fredrick’s comment) Do you consider yourself successful?
Alex: No, that guy standing behind you in the corner in a clown suit with a knife in his hand. I figured he’d want to be included in this conversation as well.
Frederick: I thought this whole conversation was supposed to be about you.
Alex: You would help me a lot if you would answer my question.
Frederick: (Thinking) Yes, I would say I’ve been successful, to a certain extent.
Alex: Where did you go to school?
Frederick: _______ University of ______.
Alex: They’re ranked 182nd nationally.
Frederick: They are?
Alex: Yeah, they moved up twenty spots from last year though, so things are looking better for you guys.
Frederick: That’s good. I was worried for a second.
Alex: You’re the owner here.
Alex: And you’re what, in your late 20s?
Alex: Ah. Do you have a girlfriend? I see you don’t have a ring on your hand.
Frederick: I have a subscription to Brazzers, if that counts for anything.
Alex: What car do you drive?
Frederick: I don’t drive. To be accurate, I can’t drive. I don’t have a license.
Alex: You’re thirty-one and you don’t have a license.
Frederick: I use the public transport and my bicycle. We live in a big city, after all.
Alex: You don’t have a license.
Alex: And these qualities make you feel like a success.
Frederick: Well, no.
Alex: But you just said you considered yourself a success.
Frederick: Those qualities have nothing to do with me considering myself a success.
Alex: Of course they do.
Frederick: How? I graduated from school without incurring any debt, studied a subject, Russian literature, that I loved, haven’t lived outside of my means, started a coffee shop, am passionate about my work, have time to read and write, and have a fantastic subscription to Brazzers. I even got Kennedy Leigh to follow me back on Twitter. I’m perfectly happy with where I am and how I got here. Can you say the same?
Alex: But you wouldn’t be considered a financial success.
Frederick: (Thinking) You’re right, but at what cost should financial success be achieved? When we talk about success, are we simply confining the definition of the term to financial success, or are we talking about success in other parts of our lives?
Alex: What do you mean?
Frederick: I mean, success isn’t something that should be defined, or valued, in terms of how monetarily well off we are or how famous we are. Success should be about the achieving of our varying personal goals and how well we can balance accomplishing these goals without detrimentally affecting other aspects of our lives. Striving for a balanced life, where all the little things come together to give us meaning and enjoyment – that should be what success is about. When we fall for the erroneous assumption that success is defined by attaining what others tell us is the most important, we no longer achieve meaningful success.
Alex: Well you’re doing that right now – you’re telling me what success is, and what’s the most important kind of success, a balanced kind of success.
Frederick: And you don’t have to listen to what my definition of success is and take it to heart if it feels like that’s not the right definition of success for you. Maybe for some people, the only success that truly, genuinely makes them happy, gives them meaning in life, makes them feel successful, is economic success. But obviously, that’s not the case for you, or for a lot of people, frankly, and I’m trying to throw out a possibly different definition of success that will allow you to find some sort of happiness.
Frederick: Isn’t that correct to a certain extent? Your definition of success has failed you recently, and a feeling of failure wracks you because you feel that you didn’t live your life correctly. Something changed. Now it’s your turn to figure out what success truly means for you.
Alex: (After a long pause) What do you think I should do?
Frederick: You should probably drink your coffee.
Alex: It’s cold.
Frederick: When you leave things unattended for a long time, no matter how warm and tasty and coffe-y they used to be, they slowly start to lose the ability to have pleasure derived from them.
Alex: Are you talking about the coffee?
Frederick: Question time is over.
Alex: Can I come back here again?
Frederick: Maybe I should explain what “question” means, when I say that question time is over.
Alex: What’s your name?
Frederick: You’re finally asking that question?
Alex: It never occurred to me during our conversation.
Frederick: Or before.
Alex: You won’t tell me?
Frederick: How can you not know my name? It’s been shown every time I’ve said something. Right, guys?
Frederick: It’s closing time. Best of luck, Alex.