We live in a world where people are often unhappy with their level of achievement and always eager for more. Multiple factors could be at the origin of this lack, be it an over ambitious nature that is never satisfied or the aspiration to be living in a parallel universe to which a road could have led but was never taken. It could also be a falsely perceived concept of achievement and competitiveness.
Competitiveness is the trait that drives individuals to compete. It is biological, varies between people, and can be either increased or diminished by the nurturing environment. Driven by basic instincts, we compete over needs like food, water, and mating to survive; but we also compete because of an inner motivation to be superior (in power, wealth, fame, status, etc), under the premise that competitiveness increases productivity and creativity which in turn lead to a higher wealth and power, and eventually happiness. But what happens if our environment encourages such motivation to very high and harmful levels.
This is probably when a healthy sense of motivation turns into over-competitiveness, an overly comparison of self-worth with the others, or one’s achievement with high goals almost impossible to reach with their available resources. This is probably when highly achieved people enter into the rat race, and a feeling of disappointment despite all the proven efforts.
A couple of weeks ago I was driving my car back home when I heard an actress over the radio discussing the way she likes to raise her kid. She told her interviewer how she prefers not to push her son to be an over-achiever at school, as long as he performs well enough. As I listened, I felt the urge to judge the woman for a somewhat irresponsible behavior. But what if she was right? What if the room for happiness is not meant to come out of achievements as we know it. What if power and wealth and status people strive for have nothing to do with the restricted sense of power and wealth and status.
Could we be more productive when we are doing things not for an end goal but for the pleasure of life instead? Most of the current models of education, family raising, and nurturing cultures describe achievements and competition as a comparative process. Scholarships and competitions are ways that push us to compare ourselves and our achievements to others. It is true that on the short-term competition increases productivity but if high productivity backfires on its creator to turn him at the long run into an unhappy racer, then maybe we need to start adopting new ways to nurture our kids.
Cultural reforms need to reconsider the concept of success as a societal status, and create motives that exude the best out of each person and focus on their own personal brand, instead of nurturing stereotypes of successful people that only serve no one. Such initiatives would have as a goal to teach kids to think out of the box when it comes to their happiness. In an earlier post, I discussed the value of going for a graduate degree, and how rare are the people who stop and think about the added value of another degree just because they were brought up believing that the more the merrier, and because the holder of a doctoral degree is still socially perceived at a higher status than the holder of a bachelor’s. Unless we progressively and individually challenge this model, the vicious cycle would not be stopping for our kids.
There are probably more questions than answers to think about, but mostly to think about this: when pushing your children, students, or employees to their edge, to which edge are you pushing them? The edge of success or the edge of failure?