‘Success’…or is it?

When watching an Internet rebroadcast of the evening news, I heard an interesting comment about retirement readiness. The reporter stated that Generation Y seems to be on track, with a practice of saving an adequate percentage of their income while Generation X (that would be me) is perilously behind the eight ball. Reason: those of us in our 40s fully expected to be working in jobs that provided pensions.

Really?

I never expected to have a job with a pension. Did you? That was our parents’ generation. By the time I was in college at 17, the idea of working for one company for 35 years seemed like a recipe for stagnation. And how many of us could say that any employer we’ve experienced could sustain us that long, be it financially, intellectually, creatively or ethically?

Corporate culture has for decades focused on fiscal expediency above all else. And in recent years, the growing trend is towards contract and short-term employment in an effort to maximize gain with a minimum of investment in personnel. But is this trend a bad thing? Change brings opportunities. If anything, it is an invitation to run a cost-benefit analysis on the way we spend most of our waking hours.

What is your workday like? Many employers demand absolute devotion in exchange for the privilege of affiliation. Increasingly, that devotion takes the form of 24/7 accessibility to YOU, via email, smartphone, pager or even the dreaded drop-by, and a willingness to place that company, its managers and its agenda as your first priority. What time, then, is left for you to pursue that which enriches your experience of living?

If I were a graphic artist, I would put what follows into an eye-catching infographic entitled, ‘Success?’ (Picture a haggard Gen X-er, smartphone in one hand, delivered pizza in the other, standing atop a 3 story house disgorging, out of doors and windows and garage, all the stuff that advertising executives have decreed indicate a life well spent, and all of it illuminated by the last rays of the sunset behind him):

  • Sell your soul to your employer so that you may have purpose, social legitimacy, increasing responsibility, increasing income, and enjoy ‘job security’ — HA! like there IS such a thing;
  • Sustain (barely) the body with meals from the fast food drive-thru or the microwave because time is money and there’s (supposedly) no profit in sitting down with your family to enjoy home cooking and face-to-face conversation;
  • Participate in conspicuous consumption. Buy lots of stuff — on credit, if necessary — so that your neighbors will assume you are wildly successful. Don’t let yourself feel any hesitation or misgivings because sustaining this illusion, we are told, is good for the economy;
  • Stay abreast of technologies, specifically mobile ones, and participate enthusiastically in social media so that you won’t feel awkward and left out when you are on your own at Starbucks;
  • Indulge your child’s every desire and interest, even if it means you can’t be with him. After all, it’s important that he be envied by his peers, and all those extracurricular activities may be a boon to getting him accepted into an elite college or university;
  • And don’t be surprised if, in order to remain committed to this way of life, you must sacrifice your dignity, your morality, your marriage, your family, your friendships, your health, and your emotional stability. Oh, yes…and your financial well-being, too.

This cycle is self-perpetuating for every person who, by ignorance or preference, has bought into this picture of ‘success’, because nothing is or ever will be enough.

It generates wants that are mistaken for needs, driving individuals into servitude to creditors and employers. It promotes the persistent division of society into haves and have-nots, helping to fuel the growing imbalance of power and exploitation of natural resources by a fraction of the human population. It stifles creativity and intellectual curiosity, and relegates human connection to professional networking and superficial associations by robbing the individual of precious time and by painting solitude and relaxation as unproductive. It is a daily, soulless, spiritually bankrupt grind that the corporate engine and social media are fueling, managed largely by preying on fears of not having enough, now and in the future. And it’s spreading outward from the West like the flu. So, what is the antidote?

To begin, some questions deserving honest consideration:

Who, exactly, are you? Or put another way, what defines you?

Are you your job? Your credentials? Your income? Your neighborhood? The car you drive? The clothes you wear? The clubs and organizations to which you belong?

Are any of these indicative of your character? Of the state of your spiritual health? Of your capacity to love yourself and others and accept that love in return?

If you were to pay off that new car and drive it until the wheels fell off, rather than trade it in for a new one every couple of years, would you feel less attractive, less important, less intimidating at a stop light? Would that bother you?

If you chose to live in a more modest house with an equally modest mortgage, rather than make the leap into the next best homeowners’ association enclave, would your colleagues think you less of an achiever? Would you care?

If you were to resist ‘upgrading’ your gadgets each time the hottest new tech came to market, would you feel out of the loop, less savvy, uncool?

If you asked your child to choose the one extracurricular activity that is really important to him so that all the rest of the busyness could be discarded in favor of time — to be a child, to be with you, to just BE — would it be a deprivation? Or would it be a gift?

Are you really better off with all that stuff? And all that responsibility? With being so accessible to all and sundry? Do you feel more secure or do you feel overwhelmed? Would some simplification make life more pleasant and more meaningful? Can you be content with what you truly need and perhaps just a little left over for the fun stuff?

Think: Spring Cleaning for the Soul. Evaluate your lifestyle to determine what serves you and take steps to eliminate what compromises your dignity, undermines your happiness and holds you back from investing in those relationships which nourish you and teach you and bring love into your life. Invest in YOU. Rediscover your creative fire, your intellectual curiosity, your family, your free time. Support local entrepreneurs or become one yourself, because it’s the entrepreneur who, by supporting communities and not being a cog in a corporate giant, keeps the American Dream from dying altogether. And set boundaries that preserve time for self-reflection; learning a new skill ‘just because’; reading that book you’ve put off for a year; exploring nature; making love to your partner; playing ball with your child; and any number of other adventures you’ve denied yourself. It’s time to live life on your terms!

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