suc­cess story

Is suc­cess get­ting a big raise? Earn­ing the re­spect of your col­leagues? Hav­ing time to vol­un­teer? One school of thought sug­gests it’s not al­ways the fast track that will get you there

ELLE (Australia) - - Contents -

What is the def­i­ni­tion of suc­cess to­day?

Let’s ad­mit it: suc­cess is a loaded word. We em­brace it, cel­e­brate it and, given our mil­len­nial be­lief that any of us could be­come a wild suc­cess at any mo­ment, we have a long tra­di­tion of self-help lit­er­a­ture on the sub­ject, start­ing with a book that doesn’t even have the S-word in the ti­tle: How To Win Friends And In­flu­ence Peo­ple

– orig­i­nally pub­lished in 1936 and still one of the best­selling non-fiction books on Ama­zon. In it, au­thor Dale Carnegie, a for­mer pork sales­man turned pub­lic-speak­ing guru, says it’s col­le­gial­ity – fos­ter­ing bonds of trust and de­cency at work – that paves the way to suc­cess.

In the 80 years since the book first ap­peared, we’ve me­an­dered suc­cess-wise. We’ve li­onised up­start in­no­va­tors – from Estée Lauder to Steve Jobs to Jay Z – who struck it rich rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing var­i­ous in­dus­tries. Yet while no-one would have bat­ted an eye­lid in, say, 1986, had you cited “wealth” as a key marker of suc­cess – as many peo­ple did that year in a Wall Street Jour­nal sur­vey – to­day it has be­come more com­pli­cated.

The top five ways peo­ple now gauge a suc­cess­ful life, ac­cord­ing to a 2013 study con­ducted by Amer­i­can Ex­press with Kantar Fu­tures, are good health, time for the im­por­tant things in life, good mar­riage/re­la­tion­ship, know­ing how to spend money well and a good work/life bal­ance. By con­trast, “hav­ing a lot of money” ranked 20th out of 22 pos­si­ble suc­cess con­trib­u­tors. And last year, an NAB re­port con­cluded that hap­pi­ness, re­la­tion­ships and well­be­ing trump money when it comes to how Aus­tralians de­fine per­sonal suc­cess. Ac­cu­mu­lat­ing wealth is still cen­tral, but more in terms of achiev­ing a sense of se­cu­rity and ac­cess to mean­ing­ful ex­pe­ri­ences rather than sta­tus. It turns out that work­ing hard and be­ing good with peo­ple are far more im­por­tant to us than tra­di­tional at­tributes such as so­cial ad­van­tage.

It’s not that peo­ple have given up on mak­ing a good liv­ing, says Kantar’s Ann Clur­man. “Money re­mains im­por­tant to ev­ery­body.” While baby boomers in the ’80s en­joyed things their par­ents may have only fan­ta­sised about – fancy cars and restau­rants – many re­alised that “th­ese things just weren’t do­ing it for them,” she says. “They wanted more.”

The New York Times colum­nist David Brooks has ar­gued that pur­su­ing money and pres­tige first – a trend he dates back to the mid-’40s, when the suf­fer­ing and de­layed grat­i­fi­ca­tion nec­es­sary dur­ing wartime grad­u­ally be­gan to be re­placed by a cult of self – has left many spir­i­tu­ally adrift. Rem­i­nis­cent of Carnegie, Brooks swears by work’s power for good: those ea­ger to re­con­nect with their de­sire for love and re­demp­tion can do so, he thinks, by div­ing into se­ri­ous, self-cor­rect­ing work (pro­fes­sional or vol­un­teer) that re­quires re­peated grap­pling with our own flaws (greed, shal­low­ness or brag­gado­cio, say). One ad­mirer summed up Brooks’ the­ory, laid out in his 2015 book The Road To Char­ac­ter: “Rather than neu­rot­i­cally in­creas­ing our long list of ac­com­plish­ments, we need to lose our­selves in what we do, and suc­cess will come on its own.”

This idea squares with a deeply in­grained cul­tural con­cept: hard work begets suc­cess. And while a cynic might sug­gest the route to the top is so much speed­ier for those born into priv­i­lege, it’s also good news that some of us still be­lieve that great things can flow from our in­nate, abid­ing abil­ity to buckle down and work. And so, we per­sist.

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