August 11, 2009
just a thought – not on my own
I have become fascinated with this TED Talk by Alain de Botton (hat tip to @tatvictoria for the link) which besides exploring the nuances of success, points out the taboo subjects of career crises, envy and snobbery. One of the things de Botton talks about is how the ideas of meritocracy and equality encourages people to “own” their success and on the flip side “own” their failure.
The striking thing about this idea is how outside of theory, the meritocratic ideal falls apart. Its rules are simply too simple – by any number of accidents of all kinds, some of us are fortunate to be born in privilege and others are far from fortunate. (To get the perspective of someone who is not privileged – get off the internet.)
The idea of “owning your success” is positive to a degree, but for 99% of all of us who read this, wholly owning your success is a delusion. Of course we admire legendary people who 0vercame incredible adversity and single-handedly made a success of themselves, but comparing ourselves to those rare people is ridiculous. Worse, it does a dis-service to the people who help us on our way to success and if we are to examine these so-called self-made men and women, the people who helped them on their paths too.
The result of this type of delusion is a certain kind of snobbery which perpetuates this idea that not only can you do it on your own, if you don’t do it on your own your accomplishments don’t mean anything. Children of the rich and famous know about this discrimination best, and often internalize it too. To my mind, just because someone had great advantages of birth shouldn’t make any difference at all to the validity of their accomplishments, positive or negative. (Fashion, being all about status, is less discriminatory towards those who are born lucky – but certainly is no stranger to snobbery.)
We are all endowed accidentally with advantages and disadvantages – and we are all masters of our own destiny to a point – but the idea that the influence of environment doesn’t play a role in our ability to succeed seems unfounded to me. Perhaps that is why I find the whole “law of attraction” thing too literal and lacking enough nuance to ring true. Some privileged people might choose to affect the role of a victim, but there are still genuine victims in the world who never “chose” the misfortunes they had to deal with, and not all of them are lucky enough to have the resources they need to overcome fate. Assigning sole responsibility to everyone for everything that happens to them makes no sense to me.
Inversely, how fortunate most of us are, to have easy access to technology, to have families and significant others who help us pursue the things we desire. Yes I can take the credit for being interested in fashion and writing and drawing, and I certainly put a lot of effort into my modest career, but the truth is I never could have done it without the help of so many people.
My parents and grandparents helped with my university tuition. My boyfriend helped me create the studio I love so much and he helped support me in the early days when my business was not enough to sustain me. Zellers chose my entry to win in a competition and without the prize money I never would have been able to afford this computer. All of my mentors and blog friends and readers and clients who see value in the things that I do encourage me so much help me hold on to my vision. My small success so far is a credit to all of these people too. It inspires me to try and find ways to help others too. I get a rush of pride and satisfaction whenever I make a great referral and I try to encourage the people I love whenever I can.
I did not do it on my own, but that doesn’t diminish my modest achievements at all. I am proud and profoundly grateful to be able to do the things I love with such generous support. Thank you now and always, for your role in whatever future success I find. I couldn’t do it on my own.