The one with a lack of achievement

There’s a line from the song ‘Sit Down’ by James which is “if I hadn’t seen such riches I could live with being poor”. When the song was first released I never really paid much attention to the line (I was usually in a club far too full of alcohol at the time) but over time it has come to have more and more resonance.

When I was 18 years old the idea of owning a car, any car was something to dream of and a definite goal but by the time I was 35 I wanted an Aston Martin. And not some second hand DB7 but a relatively new DB9 (we can all dream). The cars that seemed like dreams when I was 18 would now be discarded as ‘less than’ and the fact that I own a really nice car which in itself is far more than what I need isn’t the point – I always seem to want the next thing. Whether this is keeping up with the Joneses (or another surname in my case) or the want to have some kind of badge of achievement I’m not sure but it’s there in my head in several respects not just with cars.

I read someone’s Twitter bio earlier and it went something like “I’ve failed lots of times along the way which is why I’ve been successful”. Which from my perspective seemed a bold statement – not that I know anything about that particular person’s achievements but it seemed alien to me to consider one’s self a success to the point where I began to envy the individual concerned that they felt that sense of achievement. The idea that someone felt comfortable enough to self validate themselves as being successful was something that really has me curious.

In the spate of end of year conversations and those looking forward to a new year it does seem that some people (including some i’ve talked to) don’t consider what they achieved last year to be up to scratch or worthy of the investment of their 365 days which begged the question what were they comparing it to? Was there some cosmic score chart that allowed you to sit, reflect and say “yes I did well that year” and if there is can someone please send me a copy?

Success is a delightfully subjective word and in saying that of course I realise it has very different meanings to different people. I suppose where all this is coming to is have I (and we) got to a point where enough is never enough? Will I (and we) always want the next car, the bigger house, the better job? Are we destined to always look back at last year and think that we could have done more with it?

The film “Jerry Maguire” has a character in it called Dicky Fox – apparently the first great Sports Agent who appears at intervals during the film and has some natty motivational quotes but in ending the film he says this “Hey, I don’t have all the answers. In life, to be honest, I failed as much as I have succeeded. But I love my wife. I love my life. And I wish you my kind of success.”

But what was his kind of success??!

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “The one with a lack of achievement

  1. Rob, a great and thought provoking post and apposite for me as I’m writing a guest post on success and failure. My angle on that was that I don’t tend to class anything as a failure but I hadn’t looked to far in to the mechanics of success. I think partially because I’m not driven by the material trappings of success. However in this interconnected world the idea of keeping up with the Jones’ is immediate and real for many people. This post has really broadened my thoughts on the subject and so for me, you’re a successful writer irrespective of the scale you place on it.

  2. This is going to be a bit philosophical which I’m not sure is the type of answer you’re looking for, but it’s all I can muster on the topic.

    Success is based on what we see around us. As you’ve said, keeping up with the Joneses will always be one measure. Another is the perceived value we attribute to the things we have. Do I value my Nintendo Wii more or less than having a Sony PS3? Do I value my car as having more or less value than the two seater Mercedes in the drive opposite?

    We’ve created for ourselves a society where what I have is never good enough as there is always something better. Even those who have everything can have more because they can demand it and pay for it.

    In my opinion it is an unhealthy obsession. We do not give enough attention to the things we have, or the people around us. We want more, and forever seek greater meaning. In reality, we have everything we need around us, and your measure of success is a fallacy. Your measure of self-worth is far more valuable. It’s from this measure, we decide what success is. If you see your self-worth as being relatively low, you’ll be seeking to ‘own’ things in order to see yourself as successful. If you see your self-worth as being high, you’ll only seek to ‘own’ things which validate this. In either case, your success is playing second fiddle to your self-worth.

    I try and maintain a healthy perspective of what we have, we do and we own. I have a family, a house and a job. As of right now, this is successful. Tomorrow this will change as circumstances change. Do I want the new model DB9? Yes. Will it mean I am successful? No.

  3. Great post Rob. Im with Sukh on this. A lot of what is wrong globally can be summed up in this never ending human need to strive for more, better, faster, cheaper etc etc and so it goes on. We act like everything is infinite and of course it isn’t.

    Unfortunately, I think that as a species, we are becoming more selfish, and less inclined to think of the future. Even in the space of a few generations we have moved from not doing things/or doing things because we were aware of the impact on future generations (like our children!) to a point where most people seem to think “ah feck it, i wont be around so who cares?!”

    The problem with constantly striving for more is that we simply cannot see or appreciate what we already have as Sukh points out. But its taken me a long time to appreciate that fact. These days I often say “im a wealthy man” – simply because i am in terms of having a family and all the things that really matter.

    As for the Aston. Well, i love Astons. But i have previous with expensive cars and all they did was burn a whole in my pocket when i couldnt really afford them! so these days ive gone cool on cars and anything that i cant pay for, outright, without credit.

    One day Robbers, we’ll be miwyonnairs! Save the Aston for then 😉

  4. I’m half way through reading Daniel Pinks Drive which is about what motivates us – and it seems pretty clear that whilst we may think we are motivated by getting an Aston Martin (or other symbols of success) it’s not what really gets us out of bed in the morning.
    He talks about autonomy, mastery and purpose being what really makes us motivated.
    If you can get those through doing the gardening, attending to the kids, driving your old car then perhaps that makes us feel successful?

    I’ve never had a posh car but if I were to have one an Aston Martin would be the one I’d like – but when I check out how much they cost I always think about the other things I’d have to forgo in order to get one.
    Some days I feel successful and other days I think I’ll have to strive some more…

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