In the progress of one of the most mundane aspects of my job (and really, the most mundane task of any assigned to me over my career as an unskilled laborer in the past 12 years), facing the product in the store I work at, I found myself absent-mindedly thinking. As I often do in such a situation. If it’s not that, then it’s fuming over the wake left behind by one of the many incompetent dimwits that make my daily work experience a biblical trial.
But aside from the limitations of life in a context of brainless domination, I again found myself running thoughts and stuff through my mind. One was the concept of Sucess. In particular, me asking myself the question that is, am I successful?
As with any other complex area of life, one can’t entertain such a question honestly without hitting a boatload of nuance. Not just nuance, but also subjectivity.
While this should have been seemingly obvious to me (given my ability to tear concepts right down to the bare wires), I realized that I myself was overlooking this in my own answer to the question that is “Am I Successful?”.
Before now (that is before I entertained the nuance aspect), I would have answered with a quick “No”. Such an answer is inherently unhealthy for one’s wellbeing because there is an inherent feeling of negativity and inferiority in being unsuccessful. A sentiment that is backed up by (or more likely, stemming FROM) the status quo societal sentiment that is what constitutes Sucess.
When you strip it down to the most basic, you can say that simply having (and keeping!) a job is a form of success. And I have heard people reduce life down to this level. In a nutshell, “If you are getting paid money to do it, what are you complaining about?”. Sister to the comment “At least you HAVE a job”, and cousin to the boss and or manager originated comment that is “It won’t be any better anywhere else”.
Where do you even begin . . .
1.) Seems to be a mighty low bar to set. Imagine if you used the same line of logic in the context of abusive relationships!
Actually, it happens quite often in this context, and it’s not considered positive advice, either. It’s so damaging a phenomenon that it’s known as The Cycle Of Abuse.
No, I am not making light of abusive spousal relationships by comparing it to something seemingly (but not always!) much more benign. I am merely telling people to think this stuff through.
2.) In terms of this acceptance of stasis from the employer level, I can’t think of anything more damaging to the ongoing strength of a business than accepting lackluster morale as a matter of doing business. Particularly in the cutthroat and ever more challenging retail or hospitality sectors!
I think about it in terms of how Gordon Ramsay (Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (UK)/Kitchen Nightmares (US) ), Robert Irvine (Restaurant Impossible), John Taffer (Bar Rescue) or any other consultant would handle turning around a struggling business. If you strip away the TV-friendly drama of all 3 shows, you begin to notice an underlying pattern. Low standards and low morale are almost always just a symptom of a bigger problem.
Be it a broken family dynamic, a bad owner or manager, or some other overt and global issue spreading negativity to the whole of the staff, there is almost always more to fixing a business than shiny new equipment and training from a world class chef. Though the celebrity chef turned psychiatrist has become the staple of such tv series’s, one should not underestimate the importance of this aspect. Big money businesses with bad employee morale will often just run much more inefficiently than they otherwise could, but such an environment can easily close a small business.
As such, employers REALLY ought to think twice before they attempt to stop their employees from jumping ship simply by mindlessly saying that “the grass likely isn’t greener on the other side”.
1.) It’s lazy and bordering on incompetent.
2.) It’s costly. You are NOT getting the most out of employees that don’t give a fuck.
3.) It could be argued to be not even true!
I know, one has to be careful with anecdotes. None the less, when I think about 2 or 3 years of observation of people leaving managers that accept this mantra (leaving on good terms, that is), rarely do I see them come back. In fact, they often vanish from the business entirely (no longer spend their money there). While this next assertion is hard to back up, there is a good possibility that a disengaged former employee will be hesitant to give praise to the employer that dragged them down to feeling that way. Again, affecting the bottom line.
Think before you speak. These unjustified and easily falsifiable mantras don’t just encourage businesses to stop attempting to improve, they actively undercut their long-term success.
Though the last part may seem to be off topic, it is more a constructive way to illustrate a large percentage of the grief I deal with in daily life. Since one inherently spends the majority of their lives in the workplace, it’s not a surprise for these things to dominate everyday life.
The week is 5 days or 120 hours. If you spend 40 of them working, you have 80 left over. Take 40 more out of THAT to work on a healthy sleep schedule (HA!), and your free time becomes 40 hours. Subtract from THAT, an hour out of each day for gearing up for/winding down from a work shift, and you have 35 hours.
This isn’t taking into consideration voluntarily (or being forced to) arrive early (without pay!) so that you’re on the floor working on time. Or time-consuming personal tasks (housework, errands, etc). It’s hard to quantify generally, but hours left over that are true leisure time may well be in the lower double digits, if not the single digits.
To bring it back I have to ask myself, why did I not think I was a success?
One metric is obvious. I have always had a job since turning 18, and only took one extended vacation (2 weeks off) in that timeframe (back in 2008). I’ve never had anything beyond dead-end jobs, however. And I’ve never met an employer that one would call optimal. That I define as not being owned (or managed) into the ground by idiots, however high up in the organization.
When compared to the accomplishments of some friends and past acquaintances, my accomplishments seem pathetic. As outlined by a social media conversation on my timeline between 2 of my friends, one of which was complaining about taxes on his meager income of $48,000 a year.
1.) There is a reason why I took Facebook off my phone and my tablet
2.) Fuck off.
And when I compare myself to what governs me in a workplace, to those that make double or triple my wage . . . it’s also not pretty. It’s best not to get too tangled in such questions because there is no pretty end to that line of thinking. Only half a bottle of Tylenol to kill the migraine it induces.
Why am I not a success?
I am not them. Which is also inferring that I would be able to do their job better. Something that is debatable, to say the least (every new manager thinks they are better than the last one). But either way, a silly thing to be sore about, because corporate hierarchies are not my best friend to begin with. Almost without exception, you are always going to be a cog to someone above you with the power to terminate you for not acting as they specifically dictate.
Now THERE is an interesting word choice if there ever was one.
You are terminated. Your employment is now terminated. You can’t get much more inhuman language than that.
But either way, I don’t want to be my boss. Or his boss. I have always turned down such roles in the past, not wanting the headache.
Which brings me to the next branch, my success in comparison to that of friends and family. Indeed, the concept of jealousy sometimes enters the mind when looking at what past friends and acquaintances have accomplished. Particularly when they are seemingly undeserving of such riches (and there it is again!).
But again, this is silly. Partly because seeming societal norms and social media underpin this feeling of inferiority. And also because everyone’s background is different. The road’s that brought a person to where they are today are all different, all filled with various unique challenges or privileges. Thus, it’s foolish to compare on a level ground. Just as it’s silly to compare one’s self to what is “Normal”.
To quote a tired cliche:
There are “Normal” people, and then there are the rest that know that such people are rediculous
Which brings me to the last branch. The ultimate job opportunity. Something I will call Hollywood success.
Consider, almost any contemporary movie or television show that involves seemingly ordinary everyday people. Dare I say, comfort pablum for a populace demanding of easy to consume media.
In these shows and movies, the characters almost invariably live in the American dream. A big ole house in a sprawling suburban neighborhood. It dosesn’t matter the genre of the show or film. Unless the scripting of the program explicitly demands otherwise, your characters almost certainly live their fictional lives in suburban America (at least from the 90’s and on).
It took a very long time to come to this realization. Only the epiphany of how unsustainable and inherently destructive such a lifestyle is made me realize just how ingrained the suburban trope is into our cultural DNA. And why I have been living in comparison to this seeming utopia for pretty much my entire life.
These representations are interesting because they seem to be a fairly new phenomenon. Jack Tripper hilariously stumbled through life on Three’s Company in an apartment. The Bunkers (All In The Family) broke new television ground from a working-class neighborhood in Astoria. Maxwell Smart (and later, agent 99) happily called an apartment home. Even the infamous Al Bundy resided in a working-class domicile.
It is an interesting transition of it seems, the late 80’s into the 90’s (and beyond). It was a trend bucked by popular sitcoms Friends, Fraiser and Seinfeld. But at the same time, possibly purposefully. 2 of the 3 take place in New York City (a metropolis not often pictured by its suburbs), and #3 takes place in Seattle. Another city of which the popular phenomenon tend to be more centralized than at the periphery.
A part of these representations that are often noticeably missing from the popular culture representations of utopia is the often staggering cost of successful living. Not only the often long hours put in by one (or both) adult members of the typical nuclear family, but also the commute. The at times HOURS long drive or ride back and fouth to the city for work. And of course, the motoring around for EVERYTHING necessary for life due to the fact that most suburban planning makes other forms of transportation almost impossible.
For many years, this was my yardstick (albeit unknowingly) with which I compared my life. Years of pop cultural influences depicting the ease of suburban living had, in combination with a decade of direct customer service, programmed anything else to be sub-par. I pictured the big house in the ironically named subdivision (Meadows, Forest Park, Silver Springs, Oakwood), and the full-time job sitting on my ass in a cubical in some big office somewhere. Though nothing I have ever done has truly been ideal for me or many others related to me (they have no issues in voicing their unwanted grievances), I am certain that none of the trajectories (past or current) would ever end in such a utopia. Don’t get me wrong, I get that sometimes the only thing worse than not achieving your dreams is actually achieving them (well, where to from here?). But I don’t think such is in the cards anyway, no matter how you slice it.
And so I ask myself, what then, is success?
There are many ways that one could answer that question.
It is in the eye of the beholder. It means diffrent things to diffrent people. It is a corprate derived slogan to keep people productive and consuming of their wares.
While I believe that many of the ways that people answer this question are unproductive to themselves and to the rest of us (a high carbon footprint based lifestyle affects us all), to each their own. Most of this is merely status quo behavier anyway, and though changing that dynamic is never easy, it is achievable.
Speaking strictly as and for myself however, I would say that the concept of Sucess is of more harm than it is of good. If the yardstick is of your own context (I made a long term goal, and I achieved it), than that is another matter. However, most interpretations tend to to be rooted in external factors. A flawed way of thinking being that not only does the mad dash to the ever shifting goal posts never end, the whole process is also incredibly destructive. To the health of the person, their family, and to the rest of us. Claiming that living a high carbon footprint and disposability based lifestyle is leading to an eventual mass suicide does indeed sound alarmist. None the less, this is just a more realistic reiteration of what has driven the worlds most well known minds to considering Mars worthy of human suburbanization. Bring in a bunch of machines to clear out all the invaluable crap in our way, then build a bunch of little boxes for everyone to live in. Along with big box stores, threaters, malls and everything else in between to keep up apearances.
“What do you mean, we are living on borowed time? All is well!”
Anyway . . . what is sucess? In a nutshell, garbage. So out with the old and in with the new. Or possibly, in with the current.
Much of my life previous to 2 to 3 years back was firmly rooted in the rearview. I coudn’t look forward because I was too busy looking backwards. Not at what was (the good times). More, looking at what transpired (the stuff that I blame for leading to the problems I face today).
Compared to the trials faced by close friends of mine (often times in complete isolation), my trials are trivial. Almost, pathetic really.
But there again, I am comparing myself to the lives of others. If I keep comparing what set me adrift for a few years to the hell that faced others, I will soon be in my closet crying like the weak and seemingly pathetic loser that I aparently am.
So instead, one has to prioritize. Or more importantly, get out of reverse and get back in drive. Back in 2016, all of my old high school clouthing went in the trash, along with everything else worn out and reminicent of ventures of life long past. I tossed out my old yearbooks earlier this year (or late last year) in following the same line of thought. Pretty much the only time I revisited those books were when I was pouting over what transpired, what I didn’t do. They depict a time of life that was hell for me, so why on earth am I keeping them?!
My workplace honored my 5 years of service with the company by presenting me with a service award and a company branded coat. Though I initially felt like tossing both in the garbage, kept the coat. But did ditch the award. It’s a reminder, not a reward.
Such is how I have come to interpret the phenomenon that is success. In the journey that is my life, it’s influence has only been negative and regressive. Therefore, into the bin it goes.