What’s success worth?

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Since finishing school, I’ve known what I wanted to do to earn a living. I’ve suffered through the disapproving and transparent smoke screen that some people have placed up when I spoke about my aspirations. Why is it that when someone operates beyond the established paradigm, they are (consciously or subconsciously) ostracized by those who are enslaved by it?

The education system, as I know it, is funneling individuals through arbitrarily determined pathways, pigeonholing us all for professional jobs in which lie the greatest chance of the manifestation of ‘success’. This notion of success is such an intangible one, a subjective matter, yet a predetermined incarnation of it is seared into us all from a young age. We are all weighed down by it, the need to acquire and enjoy it. Expectations of success can skew the best of us off course, to meander down paths we were never meant to walk. We are encouraged to pursue the wrongs things, through marketing, through our social, educational and governmental structures. If you have perceived intellectual intelligence you are immediately ear marked for a university degree – be it engineering, science or psychology. You are placed on invisible tram tracks and set on your way, the line extending all the way through to when you retire with a wife/husband under one arm and a fistful of degrees, houses and cars under the other.

The societal structures we are constrained by are causing people to abandon their dreams in the hope of obtaining ‘success’ – whatever that may be. We are being marketed to in more direct and aggressive ways than ever and we cannot escape the gravitational pull of advertising no matter how hard we fight it. We’re constantly being told we’re not good enough, not attractive enough, not happy enough and not ‘successful’ enough. We are being ingrained with the mentality that purchasing and consuming will give us these things we’re lacking ie happiness and success. So what do we do? We place the need for money on a pedestal, it becomes the key and overriding driver in our lives. Clive Hamilton writes “it is not money and material possessions that are at the root of the problem: it is our attachment to them and the way they condition our thinking.” I’ve seen born artists with more talent in the smallest pore of their skin than I do in my entire body – throw it away to travel down a path to a more affluent future. They continue to work jobs they hate and pine for more time doing what they love most – another person enslaved by the bottomless pursuit of success and its associated trappings. It comes as no surprise then that Australians now work the longest hours in the developed world, and they spend $10.5 billion every year on goods they do not use.

Free thinking needs to be more readily encouraged throughout all levels of education, our children need to have the ability to separate the value of self from the value of money and all its adornments. Recently on a trip to Sri Lanka I observed poverty on a scale I have never witnessed previously. Entire families living in relative squalor, men walking the streets in rags, women spooning out clumps of rice with their bare hands from a rusty wok to feed their children. They evidently had no money, no material possessions and nothing driving them towards a notion of success – they literally lived meal to meal. There was one thing that strung most of these people together – their smiles. These people had, by western standards, absolutely nothing. Yet here they were – laughing, smiling and working in the presence of loved ones and foes alike. Take a stroll around your town, city or workplace and notice how many people you see smiling. It’s a striking dichotomy that is, I’m sure, often reflected on by western tourists when visiting the third world. I’m not absolving myself from my role within the irrepressible and exhaustive merri-go-round of our consumption culture, I am however, encouraging more people to start thinking about the relentless commandeering of our consciousness by structures that are making less sense by the day. No matter how counter-intuitive it may feel, we need to short circuit the system to invoke change and we can all start by acknowledging our dreams – and then going after them with everything we’ve got.

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