There was once a man who was troubled about his son. Said son was bright and intelligent, but failed to apply himself, which led to him getting less-than-stellar grades all throughout junior high. Concerned for his son's future, one day he decided to sit down and have a talk with the boy.
"Son, I know you're smart. You have such incredible potential to be successful and do good in the world. I know you do, but this won't just happen naturally. You'll have to work for it; you'll have to earn it. Maybe you can't see that right now, but I want to help you to. I'll make you a deal, son: if you apply yourself and work hard in this first year of high school, I promise that at the end of the year, I'll buy you whatever you want."
The boy looked up at his father with wonder in his eyes.
"Anything?" he asked, timidly.
The father smiled warmly and nodded.
"Anything, son. But you've got to earn it. You've got to work the hardest you've ever worked and earn it."
"Then I'll do it," said the boy. He embraced his father, and the two joined their family outside on the porch.
The school year came, and the boy made good on his word. He worked incredibly hard, amazing not only his teachers but also his classmates, who had doubted his intelligence before. At the end of the year, this former C-average student had earned A's in all of his classes. His father could not have been more proud. After the last day of school, he took his son out to get some ice cream and to talk once more.
"Congratulations, son," he said. "I knew you had it in you all along. Have you felt any different this year?"
The boy nodded.
"Yeah, I have. It feels kinda nice when people think I'm smart."
His father smiled.
"Well, that itself can be a great reward. But, I'll keep my promise: you can have anything you want. What'll it be?"
The boy paused for a moment, then said:
"I want one thousand pink ping-pong balls."
The father blinked, not sure he'd heard correctly.
"Sorry, son; what was that?"
The boy repeated,
"I want one thousand pink ping-pong balls."
The father sat back in his seat, confounded. He couldn't fathom what purpose his son could possibly have for one thousand ping-pong balls, and pink ones at that. But, trusting his son, he went out and bought one thousand pink ping-pong balls. He eagerly waited to see what his son would do with them, but they sat untouched for the entire summer. Worrying that his son was slipping back into his earlier ways, before the second year of school started he had another talk with the boy.
"Now son, your mother and I are still incredibly proud of the work you did last year. But, we know you can do more. So, we want to make you the same deal we did before: prove to us that you can work hard and exceed your previous accomplishments, and we'll buy you whatever you want."
The boy consented, and again astounded his parents with his capabilities. He became involved in student leadership and was enamored of his class. He was the darling of his professors and even received a letter of congratulation from his principal. His parents were positively beaming.
"Son, we are thrilled with what you've been doing this year. Every day we're more impressed with the man you are becoming. We love to see your confidence grow and flourish. We know that you're happy with what you've done, but we still want to honor our agreement: what do you want?"
The son smiled, then said,
"I'd like ten thousand pink ping-pong balls, please."
His parents were flabbergasted.
"But, son...don't you already have one thousand of those pink ping-pong balls up in your room? That you haven't even touched?"
The boy nodded.
"Yes, I know. But trust me, this is what I really want. Can I have the ten thousand pink ping-pong balls?"
His parents eyed each other warily, but eventually consented. They stored the new ping-pong balls in the shed behind their house.
As summer reached a close, their vision of what their boy could become grew even more. They made the same challenge to him as they had before, and he continued to exceed their expectations. He instituted new clubs and new programs at the school, creating lasting change and helping others to follow in his footsteps. He drew the attention of the local news, yet was incredibly modest in every interview. With his vision thus increased, his parents eagerly wondered what he'd ask of them this year. They were dismayed, then, when his answer was:
"I want one hundred thousand pink ping-pong balls."
His father protested.
"Son, you have more of those ping-pong balls than you know what to do with. We're willing to give you whatever you want, but we also want to give you things that will help you grow and give you more freedom. Is there anything else you want?"
The boy considered this for a moment, then said
"I see what you mean. In that case, I'd like a new Mustang..."
His parents grinned.
"...filled with pink ping-pong balls."
Their grins faded slightly. They couldn't fathom their son's obsession with these pink ping-pong balls. They wondered if not all was right in his head. But, because of his accomplishments, they were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. They delivered the car, ping-pong balls and all. He scooped them all out and took them to the shed with the others, then took the car out for a spin.
The last year of high school approached, and the parents decided once more to make their deal with the son. He readily accepted, and continued the work he had started the year before. He was accepted by numerous prestigious universities and received countless scholarships. The mayor gave him the key to the city, and he delivered a rousing and inspiring speech at his graduation as valedictorian. His parents threw him a lavish party to celebrate his accomplishments, attended by all of his professors and friends.
When the party had ended, he sat with his parents on the porch, reflecting over the past four years. Picturing his future, the boy's parents didn't know what he could possibly need; he seemed to have provided himself with everything necessary for his future success. So, more for tradition's sake than anything else, they asked their son what he wanted from them in return for working so hard. He didn't say anything for a long time, then eventually said:
"I want a semi-truck...filled with pink ping-pong balls."
His parents said nothing; they'd given up on trying to understand his strange demands. They arranged to buy the semi truck, and filled it to the brim with pink ping-pong balls. They had the truck symbolically delivered to their son at the house, but planned to store it somewhere else.
The next morning, the boy's father heard his son getting up early. He went to the window and saw his son loading all of the old ping-pong balls into the truck and then drive it away. Convinced that he was about to get the answers to his questions, the father jumped into the Mustang and started following his son.
They drove out of the city and into a high mountain pass. As the son reached the summit, he finally noticed his father in the car behind him. Panicking, he stepped on the gas, careening over the top of the pass. His father followed suit. As they came down the other side, the truck started going faster and faster, out of control. The son attempted to use the brakes, but they burned out almost instantly. The truck began to swerve.
The vehicles suddenly came to a sharp bend in the road. The son attempted to shift into low gear and slow down, but to no avail. The truck careened into the barrier and then hurtled over the edge. The father managed to bring the Mustang to a stop, then ran to the edge. He got there just in time to see the truck smash into the valley floor, releasing an explosion of pink ping-pong balls.
And that is the end of the story.