Wednesday, November 06, 2013


Sometimes, if I'm driving on Sunday morning, I catch a bit of the TED radio hour on NPR.  The program this Sunday, and the one the link is for, is about success.

It was an interesting hour - Tony Robbins talking about drive; a woman who won a MacArthur Genius grant for studying grit; Alain de Botton on how overrated the idea of success is - or what a trap it is.  Many voices.  During de Botton's talk, he mentioned how success in anything and family/relationships are opposed to each other - that people with healthy relationships cannot be fabulously successful, and vice versa. One of the two suffers.

Laying aside where this information comes from, or even if it is correct, my big question is why we ask these questions or come up with these theories.  Every day there is a new article about the habits of successful people, what they do and don't do, what they can have an can't have.  I read an article recently about how writers cannot be good parents.  Of course, the subjects were all straight men, and more than a few alcoholics, but the takeaway was that writers could not be good parents.  Once again, whether or not, from the random sampling of alcoholic mid-century men they drew from, is true - what's the point of asking the question?  At the end of it is the idea that there are limits to what can be done, that some things are not possible, that you cannot strive to have a balanced life, have healthy relationships, and be successful in an endeavor you choose.

To be fair, they were speaking of ridiculously "successful" people - titans of industry and scions of the arts. Still, though, what does an answer, even if it's flawed, lead us to?  Another metric to judge your own progress, and another way to evaluate you own choices?  Most of it does not lead to good valuation, and a good deal of it leads to a book purchase.  A book purchase like "Don't just do something, sit there", a manifesto for slow living.  We now need books to tell us how to slow down, to not take it so seriously, and wish we had the the idea to write a book about just chilling out so we could have become a rich, successful author. I'm sort of joking.

Maybe it's study fatigue, but truly being successful might be listening to yourself and where you're pointed, rather than someone saying what is and isn't possible.  There have been many artists with tortured family lives, and there have been many with brilliantly happy ones. There are awful people who are great successes, and wonderful people who are.  And there are wonderful unsuccessful people and awful ones, too.  No random survey can tell you what's possible, or what works for you.

In the end the program does make you look at what the idea of "success" is, and I'm glad they discussed it. Some restless spirits seem to never have enough, and what would look like "success" to a passerby looks to them like dismal failure. Others feel great just where they are.

There was a 75 year study on happiness and what makes people thrive released by Harvard this year. Sadly, all the subject were men, but it started in 1938, so a different time.  In the end, it seemed that "success" in life boiled down to "warm personal relationships."  It also mentioned how destructive alcoholism was, and the role parents play.  And even though I like this study, I still don't know what we'll know from the question.  We keep finding out what in our hearts we know already.  We even have aphorisms - 'money can't buy happiness', 'all you need is love', 'be here now'.

I guess, if nothing else, it keeps us busy, right?


Elizabeth said...

I agree with your musings -- same questions. I think, above all, though, is that it's ultimately boring -- these quandaries. If not boring, then at the least enervating.

Criticlasm said...

I'm so glad. I have a bad habit of writing right before bed, and then wondering the next day if it made any sense.

And yes, I'm boring of the questions, too. I think that must be it.