Can we all be a success? Success is a very Western concept and we learn from a very young age that it's something we should strive towards. In these terms it generally implies a certain type of job, level of income, standard of educational attainment and so on. However, that's only one interpretation.
During my mid-teens I took a weekend job at the local dairy. My task was to stack bottles into crates and lift them onto a conveyor belt where they would be collected and placed into a large steam cleaner. It was a heavy, tedious, smelly and very wet job. Once the steamer got going it would hiss out a cloud of dense white steam that would eventually settle like a fog around me. After a few minutes I was soaked from the waist down and as for the smell! I was grateful for the money but the work served as a constant reminder that this was the sort of thing I might have to do for the rest of my working life if I didn't pass my exams and move up the ladder.
One day, during a lull in proceedings, I got chatting to one of the other workers and during the course of the conversation it transpired that he was a history graduate. I remember being shocked at this disclosure and I expressed my dismay to the effect that I considered he was squandering away his time and education delivering milk. Today, I fully understand his reasoning. He said he felt pressured into attaining his degree but now he could pursue activities that interested him. The job was simply a vehicle that allowed him to do this. His day both started and finished early and he was content with his lot.
This tall, thin, scruffy young man had a long unkempt beard. Success for him wasn't expensive suits and cars and I doubt very much he knew where the nearest golf course was let alone have a handicap. I remember his laid back attitude, his easy humor, and his bemusement at my interpretation of success. Here was a man with the things I aspired to, doing a job that was well beneath his social status and potential. Of course when I was young a university graduate was still a pretty rare commodity and it could open many doors. In retrospect I see I had become a victim of conditioning over what constituted success, so it took more time and maturity before I saw the wisdom of his ways.
Success and approval are close companions. Feeling good about ourselves becomes tied to extra effort and, like a drug, the more we get the more we seem to need. But for many people it's not the answer. We can't all become the CEO of a major company, or a brain surgeon, but we could be stopped in our tracks by stress and depression if we try to do it all.
So perhaps one approach is to unpick our conditioning and to redefine the things that make us a success as individuals. Can we not be a successful person in ways that keep us sane and content but within parameters we personally find comfortable and interesting? Maybe, by the time we wake up and smell the coffee, it's already getting late but that's something we have to decide for ourselves.
Published On: November 14, 2013