Very few people get the chance to win a Nobel Prize, or an Oscar, or an Olympic gold medal. We should rightly celebrate such astonishing achievements because we know these people are very special. However I do not accept the often used encouragement for such astonishing achievements that “anyone can achieve whatever they want if they only want it enough and work hard enough”.
I get the wish to encourage youngsters to follow their dreams, but as a strategy for success the odds of it succeeding are pretty rubbish.
I wanted to open the batting for England, but the fact I wasn’t able to see a cricket ball if it was bowled at more than 15mph gave the clue to a more reliable truth. I could want it as much as I liked, but no amount of hard work or desire would change the fact that I could not bat. Life however does not have to be ordinary just because we might not make a Hollywood acceptance speech or walk out at Lord’s intent on an Ashes winning innings.
I suspect we poorly serve ourselves and (especially) our children by conflating success and happiness with wealth, status and even notoriety. If we do not get that one-in-a-million golden ticket to be the next celebrity vlogger, footballer, General Counsel or chief executive then are we saying that lives can only be ordinary? If we do then we make the escape route implausibly unattainable.
What if instead of a grand plan with a sweeping narrative and the hopes of a nation dependent on our success, we make small things our goals?
What if happiness was celebrated in terms of the joy of conversation or a shared meal or putting our small children to bed?
What if careers were admired for noting with thanks small acts of shared endeavour, or leaving work on time to be with family, or realising that to be in a great team often requires that we give to the team before we receive?
What if happiness was living in the moment, being the best version of ourselves that we can be in that moment? Not a Pollyanna ideal, but the best we can be with all our flaws, temporary worries and competing pressures?
The clichéd staff appraisal question “Where would you like to be in five years?” should be replaced with “How can you make the next five minutes alive and worthwhile, generous and kind?”
Fulfilment measured in small, repeated conscious acts of positive human interaction that make a difference for those around us. No budget required, no balance score card completed, no job-title envy and the self-confidence to be ourselves.
Take care. Paul