Thursday, December 3, 2015

Mindsets: a short introduction to the 'success' trap

One of my favourite people wrote recently;

“Failure in Nigeria is an arbitrary set of rules written in shifting sands.”

I agree with her through and through. But I'll add that the arbitrary conception of success isn't a peculiarly Nigerian problem. The problem is with the word 'success' itself. While the OALD tries its best to give us a definition, it refuses to tell us that 'the meaning of the word varies across different narratives, realities and individuals (especially individuals).'

While the Silicon Valley watchers (and pretty much everyone in the world) would consider owning 29% stake in Facebook success, Zuckerberg has hinted that his thinking around the concept is different. For him, success appears to be, giving back 99% of the almost-half-of-a-$240 billion company back to the world in the form of an impact investing vehicle.

Robin Williams led on a movie that changed many a life. For me, in his iconic role as John Keating in Dead Poets Society, he challenged my perception of opinion, personality and individuality - the difficulty of maintaining my own beliefs in the face of others. 

He impacted boys and girls from the glittery streets of Nollywood to the muddied streets of Ajegunle, but he had a different concept of success still. Alas, we'll never know what that is, because his inability to reach that success left him on a suicide bed. 

Success is a personal affair. We never realize this until we've jumped every hoop and checked every box. It's then we begin to ponder; there has to be something more.

Carol Dweck in her seminal work on mindsets expatiated on success in the light of the fixed and growth mindsets: 

"In one world [fixed mindsets] — the world of fixed traits — success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other [growth mindsets] — the world of changing qualities — it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself."

Success is not an X at the end of a man's journey. Success is the journey. The human mind is conditioned to want more. It’s why he’ll never be fulfilled. The fulfilled man is the dead man. 

Perhaps in the coming years I'll think differently, but for now, I'll leave you to humor me. 

It's telling how Solomon at the end of his years said;

“Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge. Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.” - Ecclesiastes.

How much more could a man be? But you could almost trap the grief in his voice.

The Christian worldview that suggests 'following God first and letting success take its sweet time' begins to unfurl sensibly when we see how hard it is to live life chasing success. Aside the fact that it's impossible to lay hold of it, the pressure that comes with preserving our idea of success is depressing. It's why supermodels always have a part of their body to adjust despite their being the very definition of perfection in the popular concept of beauty (even beauty is such slippery one but that's another subject). 

Success and failure is an arbitrary binary trap. The trap has left us to believe that to fail is to be finished. To fail is to be, well, a FAILURE. And no one likes that. No one likes to look stupid. However, to fail is also to be set up for growth - an avenue to extend our existing capabilities. If only they knew.

You want to succeed, or you want to grow?

I choose the latter, complete with a creed: "I will do all I can to grow. I will fail, fall, be stupid, but never settle at 'success'. I have no idea what that means." Tweet this.


1: I was inspired to write this post after reading R's witty spiel on her life lessons lately.  Her lesson 19 reminded me of my Trello board with the overflowing list of story ideas. Check out her series on life lessons titled 'What I have been Learning'.

2: Okay. I also have one week to do absolutely nothing. So I have enough to time to do a roundup of my brain droppings and post them on here. I'll probably share more in the coming days.

Photo Credit: Stemack Street via Compfight cc