“Second thoughts on success” or “Success is a bitch”

3

May 6, 2010 by Willy Cardoso

[From now on I will add at the end of each post a “how I feel” and a “about me” sentence, I found it a way of making my blog look more like ‘me’]

Everyday I’m more convinced that the corporate world is physically and psychologically unhealthy.

This morning I taught C.R. one of the nicest guys I’ve been given the pleasure to teach. He’s always enthusiastic and willing to learn (at 7am!). He has a common sense that is not so common nowadays and I really enjoy listening to his points of view. He works with a gigantic multinational and as far as I knew he was really into climbing up the corporate ladder. But today after talking a bit about blogging and travelling and all the things we would like to do more but don’t have the time, or the guts, he gets it off his chest: “Sometimes I think about changing my life and doing something …(sigh) I don’t know … I don’t want to be a VP or something…” C.R. has a teenage daughter and twin babies, and whenever he talks about them he gives a very spontaneous smile, it’s so nice.

At lunch time I went to a big law firm to teach a couple R.F. and C.M.  – R.F., the guy, didn’t show up, he was flooded with work – C.M., the girl, met me at the reception and the first thing she said when we got into the meeting room was “I’m so tired… I almost called you to cancel the class … I’m really tired”. After we spoke a bit more about the causes of her tiredness we got to the subject of travelling abroad to work or study. She says “I’d like to do it, I really thought about it in the past, but now I’m afraid of making such radical changes, because when I come back I won’t be ‘in’ the market and it will be difficult to find a job”. At this time the conversation really got to a deep personal level and we both appreciated listening to each other’s difficulties in our careers, as well as challenges and successes. At a certain moment I thought to myself, “I don’t want to be in a market that wears me out to the point that I can’t take a break to be myself”.

With these two situations and countless others I’ve seen teaching business people, my contention here is that at the same time the corporate world (and other worlds too) demands our creativity to reach their ideal of success, the same world(s) shrinks our creative ability to come up with ways to achieve our own dreams, to the point that we don’t even know anymore what these dreams are, they get so caged that it’s even hard to define them, and after a while we’re even afraid of them. The idea of success is projected on how successful our job or our company is, while as I exemplified it’s clear that to be happy is to have time to play with our kids, to travel, to exercise our imagination, and a bunch of other things that are suffocated by the burden of sustaining an ideal that is not even ours.

“The moral flabbiness born of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That — with the squalid interpretation put on the word success — is our national disease.” [William James to H.G. Wells, Sept. 11, 1906]

Although I’m using the corporate world as the enemy, I believe that this bad influence is all around of course, especially in the way (we) teachers approach it with our students, we over-measure and over-evaluate success, and the criterion of success is defined by whoever is on top of the situation, in this case, definitely not the students. Even if by some miracle tests were banned, there would still be the teacher’s judgment of what is regarded as successful, again an external judgment.

This incongruity with one’s self caused by the obligation to live up to external judgments is, as far as I have experienced, one of the main preventers of personal development, and it’s also the most difficult thing to perceive and change. My humble suggestion is that we talk about it with our students, be them children or mature businessmen, and instead of being judgmental, let’s be emphatic. Let’s understand and use their referential points to help them learn and leave ours for our own learning.

[How I feel: I’m really happy I could write something I observed in my classrooms and about people I really care about, I missed that kind of reflection.

About me: I was born in São José dos Campos in the state of São Paulo in 1983.]

This piece is cross-posted with Super Teacher T&D

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3 thoughts on ““Second thoughts on success” or “Success is a bitch”

  1. This is a very interesting post. Like you said, though, it’s not just the corporate world, I think us teachers get worn down a bit too – trying to live up to expectations of success!

    • Thank you : )
      We’re unlikely to find someone who doesn’t want success, but I think that teachers have enhanced intrinsic motivation.
      Salaries are so low compared to corporate jobs, that one has to really love teaching. On the other hand, it’s easier to give up once this motivation dies down.

  2. Carolina Saotome says:

    I´ve got the feeling that many of these successful performers have constantly been reconsidering and reflecting upon what success really means to them in their lives (and even in their after-lives!). To find a balance among career, family, love and mental sanity seems to have been a historical battle for the human being since “power” clicked in them/us, but the 21st century´s events, packed with economy crisis, environmental crisis, diplomacy crisis, crisis of moral value, all in massive amounts than ever before, are enforcing us some deep changes in the pursuit of happiness. I´ve been there, in this corporate haze of pressure, pressure and pressure. Now I´m here, teaching English, low-salary, but happier and – as you well put it – hoping that this intrinsic motivation never dies down. Thanks for raising this issue.

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