“Excuse moi mesdames. Je vous pose une question: c’est quoi la réussite?”
It was 1:30am. We were in a post-Biryani state, having served as taste testers for a spontaneous feast. Sash and I looked at each other, then back at the man, shaking our heads in unison.
Having the conversation on “What is Success?” with a stranger, at 1:30am, on deserted streets wasn’t really in our plans.
But dear stranger, to make it up to you, I’ll attempt to entertain your question over my next few posts.
This conversation comes up often. At various points in our lives, we all ask ourselves…
What am I doing? What’s it contributing to? Am I supposed to be contributing to something?
How can I be successful in a mash-up of 7 billion people with dreams and struggles of their own?
How do I stand out? Where is my uniqueness?
In my pre-Biryani state that same day, one of my dearest friends was having a similar moment to the stranger on the street. She texted,
I don’t wish for an unremarkable life.
Not exactly your average Wednesday text. But hey, not exactly an average friendship.
Below is what followed:
After this, we obviously spent some time reassuring each other that we were indeed remarkable.
And then I got more curious. Where does this need come from? I have it too. Most of us do. I’ve spent most of the summer trying to understand my own interpretations of success and the paths I want to take to get there.
Some days, success means “remarkable.” Some days, it means “awake and outside the house.” Other days, it’s a flattering email. And on really good days, it’s just knowing you were a part of something useful. And that’s enough. We would all benefit from learning early on that the latter is a goal worth aspiring to.
Millennials are often accused of being the “participation trophy” generation. In principle, why is it so horrible that participation is celebrated? The real problem arises when you’re not simultaneously taught to think about what participation really means. The participation trophy is a missed opportunity in understanding that nothing happens unless a collective either decides or is convinced that it should, and then engages with the process and the outcome. Even if that’s just a local race. Instead, we’re given mixed messages. We’re supposed to be unique individuals (this is obviously culture-dependent), special snowflakes with startups and billion dollar ideas. And we compete. A lot. For jobs. For graduate posts because there are no jobs. For life partners who have jobs. And thanks to technology, the pool of competitors is bottomless.
This need to be remarkable is therefore cultivated. And it’s distracting. But it’s not new. Nor is it necessarily just a narcissistic pursuit of recognition. Rather, it’s a compulsion to share pieces of yourself, almost as an affirmation of existing. To contribute, but to contribute in a way that is uniquely yours. To sign your art, whatever that art may be and to be remembered, revered, replicated. It’s become a biosocial instinct. Similar needs continue to convince our species to keep reproducing.
So in an effort to understand what it is that we all want to share so badly, I asked my friend…
What part of you do you want to share most? The most widely that is.
Stay tuned for her answer in Part 2.
Writer’s note: I’m hiding in the mountains for a long weekend. Two parts hiking, one part grappling with how the way I choose to define “Success” will affect the decisions I make in the upcoming year. This is therefore the first in a set of 2-3 mountain posts. If posts appear nonsensical, blame it on the altitude.