Beliefs about success

2010 has been a year of big changes: moving away from Singapore, via Sweden, to Perth. Most of the second half was deliberately slowing down more. And from that less chaotic head space reflect on the life lived so far. Mid life crisis? Probably ;)

Here’re my thoughts on success.

Success means moving up the chain of command. A manager is more successful than a employee. If you are in management you are more valuable and more accomplished than if you were merely someone who is doing the work. And yet, actors, dentists, athletes are also doing their work too. And yet we see them as successful. (Middle management aspirations are a construct of big business!)

Corporations that have “up or out” policies are saying “if you don’t move up, you are not a success.” This is something I struggle with now and then. Am I happy just being a designer, a consultant, an analyst? Shouldn’t (note that naughty word!) I really be a manager, a director by now? And the answer is no. I am great with people – but it does not mean I want to spend the majority of my working hours managing people (as opposed to working with people.)

Success means more visibly demonstrable disposable income. Someone who wears brand name clothing, drives a hot car and lives in a big house is more successful than one who shops from Kmart, drives a Toyota and lives in a 1-bedroom apartment. The more zeroes at the end of my pay cheque, the more successful I am.

Sure, more money is always nice. But we forget to ask – at what cost to our mental health, our self esteem, our integrity? For what reasons? For whom? When is enough actually enough? And of course, “demonstrable wealth” can be done by going into debt as well.

When I worked out a long time ago that I can survive quite happily on about half the median Australian income, it was a very empowering and liberating moment. It means I can worry less about money, and focus more on engaging with projects and people that speak deeply to me. I’d much rather live a more meaningful like over amassing excessive wealth.

Success means being seen with successful people. If you are an A-lister, can name drop like a top-tier escort, or knows only doctors and lawyers; you are successful. Being seen with the “right” people is also reflects our sense of social acceptability. Many people regard bankers as successful. And yet a lot of what I read about their attitudes border on the nauseating.

Of all the success beliefs this is the one I struggle with least. I am very fortunately to have fiends across a wide gamut of professions, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Variety is enriching indeed – their different perspectives and situations are a constant reminder to be humble, not quick to condemn and to try and hold a more encompassing perspective. And yes, I have on occasion been asked “why do you hang out with people like that?” And what that meant was I need to hang out less with the person who asked that question!

Success means lots of external validation. Think awards. More awards equal more success. But we don’t question the criteria behind awards; and what socially desirable behaviour those awards are awarding. A design award for example, may celebrate a designer’s creativity, and not consider how beneficial their designs are to the intended users, their clients or even the environment in general. And you’ve got to be in it to win it. Entering awards is also just about a full time job – and I have better things to do than fill in forms. Yes, I want some external validation. Perhaps less so as awards; more so as comments and emails. But it won’t kill me if I don’t.

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