Needing each other and the myth of success.
The idea of 'success' has been buzzing in my thoughts and feelings. A constant awareness, pushing me into really reflecting on what it means to me and why that is.
It started with the feed of a person who trains people in 'presentation skills.' This person is someone I admire from a distance, (I only know them as an online presence) and it seemed their work was very 'successful.' However there was something in the work that did not feel 'right' to me - it was like a piece of celery stuck between my teeth, annoying me. I went back and looked at the training that this person offered; the wording was about financial gains, impact, growth, growth and more growth and I realised that this was not my idea of success. I started to ponder on why.
Much of the myth of success that is sold to us, uses language to do with growth or ascent, 'top of their game,' 'pinnacle of their career,' 'peak performance.' I could go on but you get what I mean. It begs the question - why? It sounds rather lonely up there on the summit of your success and I wonder about what is below that summit, or rather who. Another phrase often used is 'self-made, as though the successful entrepreneur or business person or leader did that journey upwards all by themselves, which is of course impossible. These things got me thinking a little more and I started to think about success and individualism and how this is the main story we are given. Yet it is totally untrue and also not sustainable. We only have to look at the climate crisis and global emergency to see that we cannot grow and grow and grow without having to pay a great cost at the end.
So I wondered about what success was for me and I realised it was about connection. The live courses I am running this year are limited to just 12 people. Though I could earn more money by having a bigger group I know that I will not be able to connect with them in the deep and meaningful way that is essential for the work that will be taking place. Even though I am struggling financially - just earning enough to pay bills but certainly not save; the thought of earning thousands is less important to me than the thought of making a difference and deeply connecting with people. I looked again at how I advertise the work that I do and whilst I help 'clients' develop their communication and presentation skills, the main thing I offer people is a stronger connection and understanding of themselves and therefore others. Yes, I would love to get the book I am writing published so that more people can get to know the power of story - but the main incentive again is not to earn lots of money and get to the 'pinnacle' of my career but to make a difference. (Of course I know the two are not mutually exclusive.) Also the idea of being a 'celebrity' or 'well-known' is not a driver for me. Nowadays I am most at home alone in the forest with the dog for company. (I need to say there is no judgement here of those who want to be 'famous' - I am just curious and questioning about the stories we are being exposed to as aspirational and successful and who is responsible for them and why they are being told.)
The concept of success and 'the self made man' filled my liminal hours between sleep and waking. I wondered what the alternative was and it seemed that horizontal growth, lattice connections as well as some upward growth would be more beneficial - however that would mean we would have to become aware of those we were connected to, those at our sides rather than levels below us or levels above us. We would have to know them, possibly care about them too. Whilst there has been a lot of publicity about our relationship with the natural world and our complete dependence on it, (which is absolutely right as we have been unaware of the consequences of our greed for too long,) there has been little to highlight our absolute dependence on each other. In fact the story of us being self-made and not needing others has increased. We have been sold a story where we can get everything we want by clicking our phone. A story where we do not need to restrict or minimise our buying. A story where we can buy what we want on credit, where we can have it all now, even our food can arrive at the click of a button within a few minutes. But stop for a second and just think of that food. Let's say it's a simple cheese sandwich that you ordered to be delivered and let us pause to consider who and what it was that made that possible.
First the bread -
We think we are less dependent on each other now than in generations past but that is a lie. - we are actually far more dependent on each other than we were before. We are just totally ignorant of it and there is a whole industry out there who is invested in keeping us ignorant because if we realised the impact we were having on all those people we might rethink our approach t consumerism and the story of growth, growth, growth being the same as success. If we knew the child or the person working in the mine to get the minerals for the batteries in our phones, perhaps we would not want the latest one as a status symbol, perhaps we would hold onto the old one longer. Perhaps we should change the narrative to an old phone having a higher status than a new one - perhaps we should just change the whole narrative of success and status that exists in the global north. the machinery to make the bread. The people who worked in the factories to make the plastic to cover the bread. The people who built the vehicles to transport the bread. The people driving the vehicles to the place that made. the actual sandwich you are going to eat............
I will not continue to list the butter or cheese or the even phone that you used to make the call.....
We think we are less dependent on each other now than in generations past but that is a lie -We are actually dependent on far more people than we ever were before. We are just totally ignorant of it and there is a whole industry out there that is invested in keeping us ignorant because if we realised the impact we were having on all those people we might rethink our approach to consumerism and the story of growth, growth, growth being the same as success. If we knew the child or the person working in the mine to get the minerals for the batteries in our phones, perhaps we would not want the latest model as a status symbol, perhaps we would hold onto the old one longer. Perhaps we should change the narrative to an old phone having a higher status than a new one - perhaps we should just change the whole narrative of success and status that exists in the global north.
As I was thinking about this blog and about my need to write it and somehow do the concept justice, the new OnBeing Podcast came out. It is an interview between the incredible Krista Tippett and the actor, carpenter and writer, Nick Offerman. Talk about serendipity! The whole show, which also mentions the work of the truly inspiring Wendell Berry, is about our need for each other and the myth of success, so it seemed right to post this today and tell you all to have a listen to the interview.
Lastly I would suggest that the next time you sit down to eat, take time to pause and reflect on who was involved in making it possible for you to have the food that is in front of you. Take time to be grateful to those nameless people all around the world, who built, cleaned, mined, processed, cooked and transported everything so you could eat this. Then look up from your plate at the place where you live and think of who was involved in creating the glass, the metal, the plastic, the chemicals, the minerals, the pipes for your water, the lines for your electricity, the tiles for your roof and be grateful. Then - just before you bring that food up to your mouth, pause and think that everything upon this earth came from this earth, from this soil, this rock, these seas, the forests, and think of all the non-human family who inhabit it with us. Be grateful, be knowing, now eat.