For decades, I have been most successful in one – rather visible – part of my life and I failed in another – less visible – part of my life. For several years, my current situation is the exact opposite. Accepting this change was very, very hard. Visible success is highly regarded in our society. Few people would care about invisible failure or invisible success. Recently, a friend recommended watching a TED video called “A kinder, gentler philosophy of success”. Please watch it too.
A year ago, my ex wife demanded me to play bad cop towards my son as his school grades were failing again. Instead of bullying him into success, I explained to him that life basically has 4 choices: study, hobby/sport, career, and family. Most people’s choices represent a combination of these 4. However, only 1 choice can be pushed up towards a 100%. If any other choice goes up than the other one(s) must come down. It’s just a matter of allocating total capacity in time, like in this illustration:
I advised my son that these choices are flexible in time: until a certain age he could focus on studying, until another age focus on (top) sport, subsequently focus on a career, and then ultimately he could find a work/family balance that allows for happiness and satisfaction. I think he understood. I also explained him the consequences of my choices and I advised him not to repeat my mistakes.
The lack of visible success is no longer seen as being unfortunate but as being a loser for which that person is fully responsible. To quote Alain de Botton: “In the Middle Ages, in England, when you met a very poor person, that person would be described as an “unfortunate” – literally, somebody who had not been blessed by fortune, an unfortunate. Nowadays, particularly in the United States, if you meet someone at the bottom of society, they may unkindly be described as a “loser.” There is a real difference between an unfortunate and a loser, and that shows 400 years of evolution in society and our belief in who is responsible for our lives. It’s no longer the gods, it’s us. We’re in the driving seat.”
I now feel successful again but in a very different way than before. To most people my success is not visible at all as I still drive my old 2007 Mercedes E class and my house could really use a paint job. My car is a reminder of my past visible success. The only 2 elements that would make my life complete are a new relationship and – paid – work. Since several days, the 1st one is within reach.
My 2010-2014 experiences have changed my outlook on life. I now recognise that it required an enormous pressure to make me change. I now feel grateful for this change. With hindsight, I conclude that this change was overdue. This change also feels as a huge improvement of who I am. Not what I am. My job title is not who I am. My job is just a (temporary) role in my life.