Why do we call it “trappings”? Because we know what it is. Deep down inside, somewhere under all the layers of materialism and bling, we know.
It’s a trap.
Here’s what we’re taught success really looks like: STUFF.
To be successful, you need to have lots of money. Or at least, you need to look like you do. You need to have a big fancy car. Or two. Or three. You need fancy clothes, and a big-ass, paid off house. Or at least, a big ol’ house. No one needs to know if it’s actually paid off. That’d be telling, right?
To be successful, you need to work jolly hard. All. The. Time. Like, sleep is for losers, dude. Dead, broke, dead broke losers.
Your kids should go to school – private and expensive, for preference. And they should (obviously, duh), go to school for ALL twelve of the pre-defined years determined by the standard western Prussian school system. Or more, if they “fail” a year. (And let’s not forget Kindergarten. And Pre-K. We even have a triple K over here. Does no one else find it a little sinister that children start formal schooling at age THREE – and it’s called KKK?!)
And then they should go to University.
And then they should get married, get a house, get a car … or two … or three. And work really hard. All. The. Time.
Meanwhile, their kids go to school until they start the cycle again. You, on the other hand, retire at the end of a nice little set of double decades. Your fourth, in fact. (The first is becoming a grown up, then teaching your kids to be you, then working some more.)
Your last two decades see you barely seeing your kids. You understand. They’re establishing themselves in their “adult” lives, just like you did. Besides, you’re all used to not seeing much of each other. That’s what it’s been like since you had them and sent them to fancy schools and worked yourself to the bone to give them all the things that YOU never had. Including yourself.
This is life.
We rarely see each other at all. The people we spend most of our time with are the people we work with – bosses, colleagues, clients and underlings. And, no matter how we ever feel about any of these people, or the (potentially soul-destroying) work we do, we can never, EVER express our true feelings. At least, not at work, where they are formed and where they belong.
So we take them home.
The few precious hours we have with our nearest and dearest – the people we’ve CHOSEN to spend our lives with, and the people we’ve MADE, are squandered on homework, and work-work, and unloading all the frustration and bile we’ve accumulated throughout the day.
We get a few weekends together from time to time, but most of our “down time” is spent catching up: housework, shopping, socialising, family commitments, sporting events … busy-busy-busy.
And the rare holidays we manage to “steal” often include a guest appearance from the family’s cell phones, laptops and, critically, a WiFi connection. We do connect, sure – just not to each other. We connect to the web and tune each other out.
And for what?
So that we can go back and do it all again. And again. And again. Until e’re too old to keep doing it (as if 65 is old!), and we’ve taught our kids and grand kids to do the same darn thing.
Not for me.
I propose an altogether new approach to success.
What if (wait for it …) being successful meant being HAPPY? What if being labelled “a success” was based on how strong your family relationships are? What if your personal worth and achievement could only EVER be measured by YOU, and the only criteria was one simple question: “Am I fulfilled?”
Do you love what you do? Maybe parts of it. But do you love doing it all day, every day? Do you love HAVING to do it at set times, for a predetermined duration? Do you relish having to “look busy” for swathes of time while there’s no “real work” to be done? Do you enjoy those panic stations when all your clients realise – at the same time – that the deadline is tomorrow and they need you to finish their stuff FIRST?!
I didn’t think so.
If we didn’t work around the clock, would anyone die? (Nurses, I’m not talking to you here ;).)
If we kept our own hours and politely let people know we’re simply “unavailable” at certain times, would that be so bad? In fact, would it make any difference at all?
I doubt it.
And what if we chose to work just two or three hours a day? Studies show that the average western employee is only PRODUCTIVE for about that long every day anyway, so why do we waste the other five sitting at uncomfortable, life-expectancy-diminishing desks, PRETENDING?
We shove our kids into little boxes and teach them to sit at those same ergonomically-challenged desks and chairs for many more hours than a small, growing mind and body should ever be expected to be able to do. And at the end of the day, when we share our homes with strangers who refer to us as mom and dad only when they need money for the movies (we naively hope), we seem surprised.
We made that.
So that they can go out and do it all over again? So that they, too, can be labelled successful?
If that’s what success is, I don’t want it. In fact, from now on, that’s a dirty word in my mind. If success doesn’t mean being happy, satisfied, fulfilled, connected, engaged, living life fully, having adventures, seeing new places, doing new things, meeting interesting people – well, I don’t want success. I want a new word for all these things, and then I want that new word for me. And I want it for everyone I love … especially my children.
What should that amazing, incredible new word be?
I have a suggestion: Lifefull. What’s yours?