I was going to include it in a regular round-up today, but after a few of you sent this to me, I started devouring it and I highly recommend that you all take a gander: ‘Success Addicts’ Choose Being Special Over Being Happy by Arthur C. Brooks.
I’ve told this story a few times here, but for ten years I’d didn’t play guitar because at some point in my early 20s I realized I’d never do it professionally and if I wasn’t the best at it, what was the point? Same went for acting/theater and writing. There was a period in my life where I would only participate in something if I could make a mental connection between that activity and being special and successful professionally, which, of course, led me to abandoning things I loved and focusing on the hamster wheel at work, struggling to achieve the next raise, the next promotion, the next pat on the head from the higher-ups.
And obviously, I especially like how this piece frames the topic from a drinking problem perspective. Thanks to decades of normalizing the physical chemical impacts of alcohol dependency, we as a culture know (for the most part) that there is indeed a difference between me, a human who cannot consume any amount of that substance lest she blackout and embark on a life-ruining backslide, and you, a normal person who can have a glass of Prosecco at a wedding and not open a Pandora’s box of personal awful. But we also recognize that there’s an emotional dependency to booze, a romanticization of drinking and its cultural signifiers.
As this piece points out, we have a similar emotional dependency on the external validation of success. It examines the “hedonic treadmill” of sprinting for the next high of validation. It looks at how, in our pursuit of success, we toss aside our friends and family, giving up on other events and activities in our lives all in the name of being the best, of gathering trophies on our shelves.
Because so often, our ideal life boils down to that validation, as it’s a heckuva lot easier to tell yourself you’re doing well when you land a new client, or send that email at 10:45 at night, then it is to ask why we need that dopamine hit. And that’s become especially true in the last few months, as other aspects of our lives have been swept away by COVID and for those of us who’re able to work from home discover just how much time and attention a job can take when your home is your office and your office is your home.
And my goodness, Brooks hits the nail on the head when he says “…you are not going to find true happiness on the hedonic treadmill of your professional life. You’ll find it in things that are deeply ordinary: enjoying a walk or a conversation with a loved one, instead of working that extra hour, for example.” If there’s anything we’ve learned from the layoffs of the last few months, it’s that your employer is notyour family, and that when the economic poop hits the fan, that role you invested so much of your self-validation in can evaporate.
When I quit drinking, I started doing yoga and meditation as a way to sooth my perpetually wound-up brain. And in doing so, I had to become more comfortable with my own mind, start facing those anxieties of self-worth and examining those aspects of my life I’d put up with because “I was supposed to” or “I’d achieved them.” And once I became more able to sit in my own brain, and acknowledge my fears, and examine why I depended on external validation for, to be honest, everything, it made it easier to detach and examine why I was so anxious all the time (I’ll once again highly recommend the book 10% Happier for an excellent intro to mindfulness and meditation.)
And don’t get me wrong, I haven’t figured it out, as this six hundred+ word email newsletter spat out in the early morning and sent to a bunch of lovely strangers can attest to.
But in trying to step off that treadmill, at least I can breath.
Be kind to yourselves. And wear a mask, won’t you?