Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan and the perils of success

Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan and the perils of success

It can be useful to have goals in life, but there are three big problems with focussing too much on achieving your goals and ambitions.

Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan and the perils of success
photo credit: nicklally via photopin cc

And his life was now, he felt, one monumental unreality, in which everything that did not matter – professional ambitions, the private pursuit of status, the colour of wallpaper, the size of an office or the matter of a dedicated car parking space – was treated with the greatest significance, and everything that did matter – pleasure, joy, friendship, loved – was deemed somehow peripheral.”

Richard Flanagan. The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

“When you hear ‘She is very successful’ or ‘He’s made a success of himself’, what does that conjure up for you? Our society generally defines success in terms of achieving goals: fame, wealth, status and respect; a big house, a luxury car, a prestigious job, a huge salary. When people achieve these things, our society tends to label them as ‘successful’. But if we buy into this popular notion of success, we set ourselves up for a lot of unnecessary suffering.

How so? Well, this view of success inevitably pulls us into the ‘goal-focused life’, where we are always striving to achieve the next goal. We may strive for more money, a larger house, a better neighbourhood, smarter clothes, a slimmer body, bigger muscles, more status, more fame, more respect and so on. We may strive to win this game or tournament, or make that sale, or get that promotion, or win that contract, or find a more attractive partner, or buy that smart car, or get that qualification, or earn that university degree. And the illusion is, ‘When I achieve this goal, then I will be successful.’

There are at least three big problems associated with going through life this way. First, there’s no guarantee you will achieve those goals, or they may be a long way off – which leads to chronic frustration and disappointment. Second, even if you do achieve them, they will not give you lasting happiness; usually they give you a brief moment of pleasure, satisfaction or joy – and then you start to focus on the next goal. Third, if you buy into this notion of success, it will put you under tremendous pressure – because you have to keep on achieving and achieving to maintain it.’

Russ Harris. The Confidence Gap.

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