Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Success is Subjective

What is success: a house, a cottage in the country, two cars, 1.6 kids? Or is it screwing a company and 100,000 people into the ground to make millions of dollars? Or is it really finding a happy place on a daily basis?

There are as many definitions of success as there are people, yet society accepts only certain definitions and will brand others as marginal, ineffectual or worse, unacceptable.

We don’t dissociate success in the workplace from success at home. I’m not saying whether we should or not, but from the perspective of one who has been there, I’ve unfortunately tied my self-worth closely with success at work. Success at work has allowed me to make a home for myself and acquire some toys in the process. I was a hero.

But when I got laid off, the stigma I had to face was overwhelming. I was out of work, and therefore useless to the world at large. Parents and friends would give me the evil eye and after a short while, they would start browbeating me into finding another job, of similar ilk. Clearly, success is tied in with work then.

We’ll make allowances for women, and increasingly men, as homemakers. But this is only acceptable if there are kids in the home to be taken care of. Any other equation is deemed inappropriate. Mind you, kids are the free pass of the world, but this will be treated in another blog entry.

Nevertheless, we see examples every day of what constitutes acceptable success. I think back to the first time I saw Saving Private Ryan. Ryan – Matt Damon - was told to make his life count for something, or words to that effect. In the last scenes we see the family that an older Ryan – Harrison Young - has produced.

Maybe success is making sure the planet gets properly populated? Or overpopulated?

This a facetious statement of course, but who’s to say that Capt. Miller’s - played by Tom Hanks - success was any less valuable in and of itself? Isn’t saving a life laudable, if not as important as creating one? Without getting into causality effects, the value of Miller’s success outranks Ryan’s in my opinion, maybe because it was marginal and heroic.

There is nothing heroic about a male’s 15 second contribution to the creation of a life.

So now we have two success criteria: work and family. Does either of these really define a person? I heard on TV’s ER once long ago, Carter’s grandma say something to the effect that in the “olden days” we were defined by our responsibilities. This is a likely statement from one who doesn’t have a choice.

So now we must examine choice and free will. If survival is the imperative, success will indeed define someone by that responsibility. If we push the equation that much further, we find that ensuring continued survival is the next responsibility by which one abides. Choice in such circumstances is non-existent, as the alternative, is death. One does what is necessary, and the little free will we have in this instance has more to do with how to go about fulfilling that necessity.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs will tell us that humans are social creatures with an intrinsic desire for self-fulfillment, after basic needs have been met. I’m not even going into spirituality.

Why then, is society so hung up on fulfilling and re-fulfilling and imparting to fulfill some more, that which has already been met? If you seek self-actualisation on your own terms, your self-esteem will be mined at every corner, because more often than not, you are not doing it according to social dogma.

This becomes a circular argument; self-actualisation is just that, if you do it according to someone else’s parameters, you are no longer self-actualizing.

Is success then the act of self-actualizing? How much will this cost in attacks to one’s ego? How will this affect one’s parental and social connections? Will it affect security and survival? Can it?

Obviously it’s not easy. Maybe it is precisely this difficulty which keeps society from allowing individual fulfillment. If you fit the mould, it’s not a problem, it is tolerated and sometimes celebrated! Case in point, we celebrate our Bill Gates and Martha Stewart and Donald Trump, and we even tolerate our John Roth, corporate success being the icon it is. We celebrate large families, as they ensure, through numbers, our human survival. We celebrate movie stars for the dream world we assume they have: lots of money and not in the corporate rat race!

But the hypocrisy cannot be denied. Bill Gates is celebrated because he made it big, but we’ll get annoyed at the Krishna singing in an airport, or worse, dismiss him as a flake. I daresay both of these people have probably attained self-fulfillment, one generally accepted, one not.

Don’t get me wrong, I dislike being disturbed in an airport as much as anyone, but the point is this: the Krishna is just as fulfilled, if not more so, than our billionaire, we just don’t want to think about it, but worse, we don’t want to admit this is even possible. We want what the billionaire has, we don’t want to dress in horrible orange.

Some of us who have tried a modicum of self-actualisation outside of the work environment will know how hard it is. Those of us who have tried to redefine success outside of the boundaries of 1M$, two cars and so forth, know how much shit we have to put up with.

And finally, some of us will try to attain a non-standard goal we’ve established for ourselves only to be pulled back into what’s considered safe by others. It is this illusion of safety that keeps us pinned to our desk or our cubes. Once you’ve been laid off, you understand so clearly that safety is not what it seems.

Redefine success to fit you! You shouldn’t redefine yourself to fit success. And especially not to someone else’s definition.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And here comes the vicious circle. what happens when one's definition of success unfortunately impactss someone else (spouse, friends, etc.) seeks for success based on their own definition?

October 17, 2005 1:32 p.m.  
Blogger Steve said...

This is a societal reality. The solution may lie in the path taken and the choices made to acheive one's success.

October 17, 2005 6:08 p.m.  
Anonymous Cookie said...

Success, for me, is just to have a few moments of happiness, once in a while. If that's not in the cards, well then, a little peace and quiet will do.

Another way I measure success in my books is the quality of the friendships that I have in my life.

November 03, 2005 6:07 p.m.  

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