Tell me about successful people and you might be inclined to rattle off resumes. Perhaps these people work hard and make sizable sums of money. Maybe they are moving into multiple-thousand square foot homes with ample room. They could even have the prestigious title of doctor or chief executive.
In our highly individualistic society that hails “hard work” and “grit” and “responsibility” and “choice,” we learn early on what success looks like. Different cultures have variations of vocational prestigiousness, but many share in the desire to own land, property, and make more money than most. To be accomplished, one must follow this tattered path.
The ability to captivate through material possessions and titles is dangerous. Real success and accomplishment seems lost amidst this cavalcade of crap. Worse, these measures of success are not afforded to everyone. Minorities and those from disenfranchised backgrounds are not offered the same opportunities to “succeed” in these traditional ways. For example, faculty at institutions of higher learning are overwhelmingly white men, and that’s a problem for everyone.
Our ideas and definitions of success are decrepit. We need new measures, and we’re long overdue. If success cannot be afforded with greater equality, why do we continue to allow these narrow ideas to continue? What exactly are we doing with these antiquated ideals? Why do we trumpet individual achievement that only goes to consume and perpetuate inequities?
Society benefits in the propagation of materialism and consumption. And current measures of success conveniently fit this modality. Buy the home, buy a bigger one. Buy the car, buy a more luxurious one.
We need better, less financially dependent measures of successes. Education is out of reach for many. Material possessions are tired and tried methods of achievement. Income disparities are nearing Gilded Age levels again. Larger homes consume more fossil fuels to heat and cool. Luxury vehicles tend to burn through gasoline. And prestigious titles seem reserved for those born and ascribed status.
Just because “success” works for capitalism doesn’t mean it works for the collective. Let’s craft something a little different. Perhaps we can live in a world that defines success flexibly. Perhaps we can see success in the helping hand, time, and dollar given to anyone/someone in need. Perhaps we can see success in the mother that raises children who respect the planet and find ways to help others. Perhaps we need to break out from formal strictures that rule over our lives, and consider that consumption cannot equal achievement.
Disbanding this present thinking provides for a future with hope for the masses. Achievements needn’t be through prescribed methods and lists of prestigious professions. We need a world with janitors, plumbers, assistant to the assistant managers, and everything in between. We need a world where someone making $35,000 per year, retiring with little, but helping find foster homes for children is seen as a hero (and heck, would it hurt to pay that person a little more?).
Humans are incredibly creative; yet, we have allowed these to persist. We are flawed, but have great potential. It’s time to shed archaic messages. They were convenient for marketers, but harbored horrific messages to those who couldn’t meet the prescribed rules.
How would you define success? Who are your role models? What do you think about income, vocation, and education as measures of success?