All through history, success has been a lot like SAT exam, how successful you are is relative of how well others have been doing. So when someone rises the bench mark, others are expected to follow suit or outperform the number one. I learnt a load of rhymes in pre-school, my son is expected to learn proverbs and write his own homework. My parents never went to pre-school, they went straight to 1st grade. My grandparents had to worry about famine, epidemic, independence, riots and money, my parents- not so much.
Today you need to graduate with flying colors from high school, cracking spelling bees, also outperforming in music, theatre and sport,crack difficult entrance exams, graduate, land a good job or an enviable Masters program, sometimes overseas, get a job, be employee of the year, make money enough experience to strike out on your own, establish a business, promote in the ever changing digital era, buy an array of software products for your business, be successful, marry in time, but marry for love, start a family, get fit, stay fit, be a great parent, be a great son or daughter and the benchmark or even the bench keeps changing as you move one stage to another. And if you don’t go through these stages, you are considered a failure.
Not to forget mortgage, insurance and retirement plans. With travel posts confetti-ing your Instagram and Facebook. So what is success today? what you think is satisfying or something everyone validates?
Millennials, I think, we are more screwed than the screw itself.
Our parents? What has changed since the 80s? Assuming most of our parents were baby-boomers, 80s were a nostalgic era of big hair, bell bottom flare and the signature 80s cassettes. Ask them what it meant for them to be successful? What was the general mindset back then?
It had been almost 30 years since Independence, the socio- political scene was changing,a lot of people were settling down from a revolutionary mindset and adopting the capitalistic economy. A whole lot of people were becoming aware of new fields and opportunities, they could seize, if they tried. I asked my mom and dad what they wanted to be when they finished high school. I wasn’t very surprised when they said all they wanted to do, was get into college, complete it and land a job. To them success meant study hard, study really hard. Those who did succeeded ( by their bench mark, landed a job in high places, which meant a government job) and those who didn’t landed less attractive ( according to them) private jobs.
Today is it enough to study really hard? There are areas where studying really hard can help for example competitive exams and entrance exams, but that is just the beginning. Otherwise to be employable, to stay employed, or to remain in college, to become a notch above others or just to remain above average, requires a whole lot of skill sets. These are not taught in the classrooms but mean the difference between success and failure.
That begs the question, ” Was it easier to succeed in the pre- internet, pre- computer era?”. The answer is obviously, No.
A lot of things weren’t easy back then. Because communication was either snail pace or absent. So communicating updates, copying books, notes, completing assignments, getting them printed, filling out an application was no joke. It wasn’t an era where if you wanted something, you could just look it up on Google. It was not an era of telephone directories either. You can’t just call anyone for enquiries. You needed to do most things in person. The success rate of getting something done was so low that whoever was doing it, was probably doing it right, after a lot of consistent hard work. That was the case with any field, academics, art, cinema, journalism, archaeology, anything. That was an era where a simple backspace or delete couldn’t undo a typographic error. You had to throw the entire sheet out.
Success seems easy to them when we look at it from today because of two things:
1. The standard benchmark of success back then was relatively lower: education, job, house, family, retirement benefits.
2. Success is still hard today but getting things done has become easier, getting information across has become faster and reliable. Since anybody today can get hold of anything and everyone has the minimal qualifications of the same standard, you are asked the questions, “what are you more than that? And how long and how well you can continue doing a good job?
It is easier to be successful today, but almost impossible to remain RELEVANT. A lot of things today seem like overkill and crowded. There are too many IIM graduates and aspirants that it’s no surprise if someone got into the elite B- school. Because we know it gets only a lot tougher after graduation.
In art and entertainment? we see too many singers, too many actors, too many tv shows, too many bloggers, an army of entrepreneurs, too many social media influencers whose names you don’t remember, too many digital marketing gurus selling their wisdom that isn’t wildly different from one another. It all seems only like a rat race than an actual appreciation for talent.
While it is good that today, everyone has something to do, how do we know who is doing them right, consistent and legitimate? Accolades, featured articles and awards? Sorry, they can be bought. Followers, ratings and reviews? Nope, a good PR agency can buy them for you for a good amount of money. So what only is legitimate? This is not to say everything you read is bought or paid. Forums like Quora, Google reviews and Facebook comments themselves give away the quality of a product or somebody’s work. Most social media driven products are hugely disruptive when they first hit Instagram and Facebook, then die out in the waves of similar products come into the digital marketing arena. Likewise, even in business, before you bask in your innovation somebody has seen it , done it and gone to do better.
What you see is a mad house today, very successfully running itself. As on date, someone is making a lot of money somewhere and losing it all somewhere else. By the time you realise all this is eating you away, you have no time to climb back up. It’s almost like the gold rush. Nobody knows what will happen later on. But everyone wants to take away a piece while they can.
In the service industry? back in my hometown a particular hospital was specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology. Today, in a 10 sq mile area, multiple fertility hospitals have sprung up. While this at first seems like a good thing, it’s difficult to tell the right medical care from the wrong. Too many people setting up hospitals only makes them want to make sure the functioning is sustainable- in other words, making decent money to keep the establishment afloat.
Now, over to real estate : in India there are 10 million vacant homes. 32% flats in key real estate areas of Chennai like OMR and Perambur are unoccupied, making around 4450 homes vacant according to a 2017 study. Kerala’s NRIs and out of state settlers unknowingly contribute to 1.4 million vacant homes. Mumbai boasts of the largest number of unoccupied homes. That is with 1.77 million people homeless ( 2011 study). So would you consider real estate success, a success? Who builds unoccupied homes and claims financial success?
The problem essentially is that we think, the more heads a business or person turns, they are successful. We think, once they land a fancy job in a big company, their life is sealed. That is no doubt the traditional,safe route, it is achieving the basics. But it need not necessarily be the epitome of success. We sometimes only care about who comes first, who seems noticeable, what is worse than celebrating
The more things they do, they are successful. I had graduated 4 years ago, whilst there was an alumni event planned, a discussion broke out that seemed to reflect our commonly held ideas of success. An anonymous alumnus wrote ” you seem to be celebrating only those in big companies, doing really well, we those who have arrear papers ( un-finished credits) have something useful to share with our juniors too” We like listening to pioneers and successful people, but the catch is that, we don’t listen to anyone unless they have achieved something. A motivational speaker may not give you anything more than a friend or professor does but we still herald the idea that they have something more valuable to offer. We shun and insult the mundane, we consider normal a failure. Ultimately, most young people get caught and torn apart in a world whose standards change as fast as stock prices. We forget to appreciate those who do the regular things and keep the world afloat. We forget the seemingly unimportant little bricks and thr invisible beams that hold the building together. We have probably buried everything from the 80s, a time when ordinary was still considered success, when nobody was shunned for not being a star student or employee, when nobody was shamed for not following their passion, when normal was welcome and okay. When huge success was as much a choice than just chance.