Why People's Definition of Success Totally Sucks.
“Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, Sapiens have thus been living in a dual reality. On the one hand, the objective reality of rivers, trees and lions; and on the other hand, the imagined reality of gods, nations and corporations. As time went by, the imagined reality became ever more powerful, so that today the very survival of rivers, trees and lions depends on the grace of imagined entities such as the United States and Google…happiness does not really depend on objective conditions of either wealth, health or even community. Rather, it depends on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations.”
― Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
This book blew a hole through the back of my head (translation: it’s completely awesome); Mr. Harari’s super detailed documentation of how humans became humans got me thinking about why people view success the way they do. If I only need shelter, food, sleep, and community to live happily and survive, why have I been trained or guided most of my life to chase after accomplishments in school, awards in competitions, achievements in business?
Why am I being told that I need those things to be “successful”?
Why is an exhausted, stressed out billionaire tech mogul more “successful” than a content, happy 3rd grade school teacher?
Are they really?
Who said so?
I feel stuck in a globally perpetuated self-prophecy: That we need to buy big houses; That we need to compete, win, and advance our careers; That we’re supposed to work harder or work smarter; that we’re supposed to stack our Linkedin profiles.
Are we really?
Who said so?
If humans imagined almost everything outside of the necessities of a well-balanced happy life (again, food, water, shelter, sleep, community) — why do we continue to follow fairytales of success like gospel (note: gospel also completely made up).
The need to want more, to desire more, to accomplish more as a means to a happy life, is the very thing that makes most people unhappy the majority of their life. This long chase seems to glimpse fleeting happiness on rare occasion, after which yet another long cycle of chasing something else begins, and extended unhappiness and dissatisfaction kick in again.
Have we reached a critical mass effect of defining success the way we do, to a point of no return?
Will our fellow humans ever be able to slow down, and define success and wealth of people simply by the kindness they extend to others, by the collective ability to ensure consistent food and shelter to everybody, and our ability to have experiences across the world? Why must competition mean beating one another? Why can’t we collectively compete against greater challenges, such climate change, greed and violence, and hunger?
Does this sound like socialist hippie shit to you? The moment I typed it out the above, the thought crossed my mind.
I used to always feel an internal conflict between Capitalist Jeff and Socialist Jeff. Until I realized they are two sides to the same coin:
Capitalism as defined by Webster’s is an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.
Socialism is a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.
This tendency for many societies and communities to exclusively champion and celebrate capitalist efforts feels like an oxymoron. I personally believe these groups in live a duality of championing capitalist efforts and socialist sentiment. They hope to preserve the freedom to trade and exchange ideas, and the natural born rights of fellow humankind. People capitalistically want to reap the seeds of achievements they personally sow, so that they can provide comfort, safety, and sometimes luxury for their family. At the same time, they also have the spirit of camaraderie and support for their fellow human, a socialist sentiment.
I’m confusing the hell out myself with my own thoughts right now.
Maybe this is the reason why the definition of success totally sucks today: our understanding of success comes from a muddled, perverted, unclear, mass-media perpetuated clusterfuck that has shaped itself over centuries of deeply flawed human thought, and taken as gospel (again, an imagined concept).
We think success is achieved through accomplishment, wealth, and beating the other guy, because that is the mass narrative available.
We think success is most capable through exclusively capitalist efforts, because people like following where mass sums of funding flow to.
We think we can communicate aloud and pursue success as defined by centuries of noise and literature, when in reality our feelings, sentiments, empathy, and other deeply human instinct steer us in a different path.
Maybe it’s time we find louder and more obnoxious ways to trumpet and champion these deeply rooted human instincts, and showcase these as narratives of success today.
Success = Demonstrating kindness to others.
Success = Being content & joyful.
Success = Showing empathy.
Success = Being humble in victory, graceful in defeat.
Success = Looking out for the well being of others.
(what else? let’s build this list together).
Instead of being lemmings for a false and historically destructive narrative of success, let’s try lifting up narratives of success like the ones above, which totally do not suck.