Friday, November 20, 2015

what is 'success'?

It's official: I've been elected as Mayor of Procrastinationville. I meant to write this blog a month ago, and even crowdsourced responses to help write it. And then for a variety of reasons, I had to put blogging aside for a bit, but then I watched Hank Green's latest YouTube video and it spoke directly to what I've been wanting to write about.


Over the summer, at the annual Asian American Journalists Association National Convention, somebody asked me what my advice was in order to become successful.

That's an odd question to answer. We all have different definitions of success, and I honestly do not consider myself to be "a success." As cliche as it sounds, I'm a work in progress in every aspect of my life. I'm successful at some things, and not so successful at others.

But then that makes me sound like a humblebrag, right? I just genuinely don't know if there's one thing I could say that can help someone achieve the success they'd like. I have bits of advice in my heart and in my brain that can help someone on their journey through different situations. (Which, by the way, was the original direction of this blog: what's the best advice you've ever received?)

Hank answers the question best of why the idea of "success" might not be such a good thing:
"...one might say I am a success. People have started to say this to me: 'What's it like to be successful?' or 'Congratulations on your success.' I have felt really weird about it, troubled by it. I was having a hard time figuring out exactly why I was feeling this way. Is it modesty? Is it false modesty? Maybe a bit of both of those. But after thinking about it for awhile, here's what it actually is: I feel like when someone says, 'Congratulations on your success,' they're putting you into a category of people that is extremely difficult to achieve, that only a very small percentage of humans on the planet could ever achieve, and then saying that that is a thing that all people should strive for."
It's the idea that "success" is scarce, and therefore valuable, that's troubling--especially if we place value on it because we believe that being a "success" makes a person happy.
"I don't think most people would even argue that success is a necessary part of happiness. But I think we do conflate those two things, and whenever I'm told that I'm successful, I worry about what that word means to the person saying it and what that word means to society. Does it mean achieving the things you want to achieve?...Or is it achieving something that most people implicitly cannot achieve...because it is based on the scarcity of resources? It's based on the fact that not everyone can be famous? It's based on the fact that not everyone can be in the top 20% of income? Is being 'successful' being richer or more powerful or more well-known than 'most people'?"
Hank's conclusion is that it's important we figure out ways to value one another and value ourselves that don't have anything to do with "scarcity." Ultimately, we shouldn't only just value the things that we envy about others.


If you have four minutes to spare, watch Hank's full video where he strings this all together in a much more coherent fashion. It's definitely food for thought.

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