Success A Liability

We tend to migrate toward and embellish those behaviors that make us happy and bring us the most success … however we choose to define “success”.

Success-driven behavior patterns start forming early, notwithstanding the fact that our success early in life depends a lot on OTHER people’s success!  We may become successful in negotiating an allowance.  Or we may become successful – at least in the short run – by throwing tantrums to get what we want.

And we may become successful – up to a point – in creating alt-realities … like superhero or “gothic” or fairy-land fabrications.

In early adulthood, an “Alpha-Male” may become extremely successful at seducing women or an “Alpha-Female” may become extremely successful at seducing men.

But these successes are not necessarily the most stable or sustainable.

A recent week’s stay in New Orleans provided additional new perspectives on success.

The street acrobat who had become an accomplished juggler atop a 12-foot high unicycle was also an articulate “salesman”, drawing crowds in the Basilica Cathedral plaza several times a day – a well-established entertainer clearly doing what he loved.  His most ostensible source of income was gratuities.  But one had to wonder about his healthcare and retirement plans – and back-up plans, should he have a career-ending injury!  In a sense, he had become inextricably subservient to his own success in a very narrow niche of life with very few translatable skills – except perhaps in eventually selling junk bonds and derivatives on Wall Street!

[I sometimes wonder about my own success in “tinkering”, salvaging and repurposing things others would easily and thoughtlessly discard, scraping and painting the outside of the house, repairing all sorts of stuff … I can become so immersed in doing things I’ve become really good at doing to “save the universe” – complete with all the required tools – that I get behind in things I might otherwise, in fact, deem more important – or that might be even more rewarding … like learning to juggle atop a 12-foot high unicycle!  I also love being creative in the kitchen when I could simply be out picking up fast food and doing things more useful or purposeful.  But I’ve also found that I can’t concentrate on useful and purposeful things indefinitely and the diversions are therapeutic!]

Thinking back to my early days as an emerging biomedical scientist, I found my personal success at international scientific meetings was gained by compulsively scouting out and attending every scientific presentation that was even remotely related to my area of research interest.  [It was effective but exhausting!]  What I eventually found out, however, was that successful “seasoned” investigators were hobnobbing with each other outside the scientific meeting corral – much more leisurely and much more effectively sharing information on the latest advances in their respective fields, on funding opportunities, and on potential collaborations.

While walking, riding street cars and driving the streets of New Orleans, one can’t help encounter the homeless – or presumptively homeless – roaming the streets.  Across from Tulane Medical Center, under the bridge of an I-10 overpass, is an entire encampment of homeless sojourners.  Greater NOLA residents point to the convenience of the location for accessing free medical services at the Tulane Med Center emergency room and the VA Hospital. I couldn’t help thinking: Contrary to common belief and broad-brush representations, the homeless are not necessarily devoid of survival skills and creativity in “beating the system”.   But their success in doing so dramatically limits their overall navigability and sustainable engagement in the world.

Our overall tour of NOLA underscored the local dedication of the populace to parades, celebrations, and festive engagements of all kinds.  Both the Mardi Gras Museum and other showcases of Afro-Cajun-Creole culture highlighted an essentially all-consuming preoccupation with pageantry.  Entire living quarters were turned into costume production for celebration after celebration – with an average of 1-3 parades per week (there were four parades in one day while we were there!  Yes, this contributes to the attraction of millions of tourists annually.  But the parades are all self-funded and it costs between $500 and $1,500 to ride on a float, never mind the costumes!)  I couldn’t help thinking that working multiple minimum wage jobs in order to afford the pageantry is a Sysiphean pursuit.

Whatever we do and however we do it, it seems that “Beating the System” is the holy grail of successful living for many.  One can succeed in “Beating the System” any number of ways … and we all do try, in our own ways – ranging from procrastination to making excuses to outright fabrication of fake news and alt-realities and conjuring all kinds of conspiracy theories to conscript presumptive moral or authoritative “high ground”.   Enough of all that!

Let’s get REAL!!

Successes keep us going.  If you’re not happy, you’re probably not having enough success – or at least not enough of the right kind of success … which is an all-important distinction!  Let’s take care not to get caught up in small “Junk Bond” successes and miss the bigger Blue Chip SUCCESSES that represent our full potential and rightful Destiny.  Patience is a virtue.  And disciplined Goal-Tending is most likely to give us the best “positive traction”.  [Knowing that we are definitively moving toward a worthy Goal can provide even more moment-to-moment satisfactions than any number of gratuitous “successes”.]  Those who can defer gratifications associated with instant, immediate and rapidly repetitive small successes (like watching “Wheel of Fortune” or sit-coms or seeing the flashing colored lights and hearing the bells and whistles on gambling machines), and who can look toward more distant horizons with passion and purpose will likely reap the most rewarding successes and have the most satisfying and sustainable outcomes.  Quartermaster


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