I often wonder why our world is so full of unrelenting standards – the expectation that we must do more, have more, be more.
Society teaches us from a young age that surpassing the bar set for us is a worthy pursuit. By the time we’re adults, the bar is set so high that we’re struggling to even touch it with one finger.
SUCCESS = HAPPINESS
I was an over-achiever all through my school years. My personality type, need for approval and inability to cope with life at a deep emotional level drove me to drown myself in relentless study. I believed that if I was successful, I would be happy and everyone around me would be happy too. The world told me: success = happiness and I didn’t question this until later in life.
Many influential adults gave me extra attention, affirmations and rewards when I excelled. So I drove myself to reach further and higher. When I excelled, I gained more than just approval and praise, I gained self-esteem and a sense of belonging. I gained entry to an invisible, elite club of which there were few members. It felt good.
For a girl who always felt inadequate and alone, over-achieving bandaged my wounds. By the time I reached my twenties, these bandages started unravelling. I discovered that success didn’t buy happiness at all; not the deep, lasting kind. I had believed a lie.
Now in my thirties, I look back and can see that the encouragement to excel, though wonderful, wasn’t what I needed most.
More than anything, I needed a break. I needed to be told that I was allowed to rest my chronically ill body and struggling brain. And I needed to have a social life.
I needed to know that failing was 100% okay; that my future was secure not because of achievement but because of everything I had inside me.
I needed to believe that ‘passing’ was enough. I needed to be told that, regardless of the standard of my work, I was enough for who I was, not for what I achieved.
WORTH BASED ON ACHIEVEMENT
I feel angry that my son is growing up in a world that says his worth is based on what he achieves, not on who he is.
Maybe it’s time to stop praising over-achieving children without a second thought. Maybe it’s time to scratch the surface and understand what’s going on in a person’s life (child or adult) and learn if, underneath, they’re coping.
Maybe it’s time to stop idolising success.
CHANGING OUR VIEW
What if we managed to redefine success? What if we lowered the bar, just a little?
What if we defined success as simply ticking off the basics and doing them well?
Would this be the antidote to pushing ourselves too hard, too far, too often?
Would we feel less like we’re failing all the time and more like we’re winning? Would we start to feel like we’re enough?
Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s great that we celebrate each other’s achievements. I’m all for praise and encouragement where it’s due. We all have dreams we want to see fulfilled and most of us have to work hard to get there. We all need to feel good about reaching goals, or we wouldn’t bother to achieve anything.
But how can we have a ‘one rule fits all’ mentality in this current age of diversity? The fact is we all have limitations that hold us back (both physical and mental).
I wish the world would reflect this reality – this diversity – and that it would portray success accurately by celebrating its many varied forms. I wish the world would stop propagating the epitomes of success; stop pushing standards that are improbable classifications of success.
MILLIMETRES & METRES
Our problem is not with failing or fear of failure, like we have been led to believe. Our problem is the definition and measure of success that’s been spoon-fed to us (and we’ve swallowed whole).
What if we made a world where success was measured by kindness? That would be fair. Everyone has the ability to think and act kindly.
What if success was simply being the best you could be at any given moment – that would be fair. What if every other achievement was just a bonus; a cherry on top?
What if we recognised the small, daily wins and celebrated those as ‘success’? Maybe then, every one of us might be considered successful.
What if success was just a word, not pregnant with cultural beliefs and expectations?
I think that could change our lives.