Questions about success

There’s a background conversation I’m hearing right now with my wife and her friend (both medical students). They’re in exam prep mode and talking in a language that sounds like code. All these med students had and still are really pushing themselves beyond the threshold to get where they are, while looking forward to impossible time schedules that’s certain to take up the next few decades of their life. The question of whether this is what they really want comes up all the time. In high pressured situations (like a medical degree / profession) it makes sense people question what it is they’re really striving for. What is the price of success? Or what is success anyway?

When striving for success (and defining it), there’s a fine line we dance between fulfillment and approval and just to complicate matters further – they might not be entirely separate things anyway. For example: status, beauty, influence, fame, money etc. could make us feel relatively fulfilled and these sort of things will also go a long way to help us gain approval in some form too.

My next point then, might be something like:

Well, if status, beauty, influence, fame, money etc. makes us self-fulfilled, why did Kurdt Cobain commit suicide…


why are so many rich and famous people so screwed up there’s even a term for it ‘affluenza‘…

The counter argument could then follow the lines of:

there’s probably more poor and unknowns as screwed up  -so at least if you’ve got money you can be miserable and die in style… etc.

This sounds like an argument between a poor guy and a rich guy. So I wonder are these perspectives just convenient ways to justify someone’s present lifestyle, their aspirations or life choices? The guy with the red Ferrari, for example mightn’t jump to the idea of renouncing his wealth and possessions to find happiness. Likewise, someone like me without a car, hasn’t got much to lose by taking up such an idea. Marx had a similar argument when he said:

“Religion is the poor man’s opium”

His comment was for people like me (not so wealthy), holding on to the idea that one day heaven will have to open its gates to me (because I don’t drive a Ferrari?) – making a lifetime of struggles seem all worthwhile. Especially, when I consider that I’ll have the last laugh looking down at all those snotty Ferrari owners from my heavenly platform (but don’t worry I’m not really that gullible!).

Anyway, this sort thinking (for the record – not everyone who is religious thinks like this) is bound to hit two birds with one stone – it gives meaning to the strain of an unfulfilling life (while oiling the brain for acceptance of hardship) and offers a nice reward in the end (if we never lose faith, that is). It kind of seems apt that the symbol of Christianity is of a man suffering and dying on a cross – but that’s a whole other debate.

By the same token we could easily translate a religious leaning to the holy grail of choice – because in truth, us non-religious types are just as able to fall prey to similar devises. Consumerism (the religion of capitalism?) preaches our individual right to choose – heaven is that earthly position where you freely choose, purchase and have any number of items within the inexhaustible range of things and services catered to any need or desire you could ever possibly imagine.

The long hours, the lack of sleep, the sacrifice of an otherwise carefree life are all justifiable when the reward of choice (which our god given right dammit!) hovers somewhere in the imaginable future, after that pay rise, that promotion, that next big sale. Our holy are no longer religious figures but celebrities and business giants who like the saints are untouchable and surrounded by a translucent glow (laser teeth whitening and skin resurfacing – is something those saints never had!). So the question is: how different this really to religion or things about religion people are generally skeptical about? Well, maybe it is similar – its just bundled together in a shinier package…

So, success – is it just about getting something or somewhere? If so, do we ever get there? Did Kurdt get there? Does anyone really get there? Or is it about proving ourselves and making sure others know we are worthwhile? Or are we just trying to convince ourselves we are worthwhile?

Imagine, if just finding contentment somehow through all the fluctuations life throws at us, is the only way to measure of our worth… Success might be an entirely different thing. It might be even that much more achievable.

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