I came top in almost every subject all the way through school. It wasn’t hard for me, it was just the way my brain worked. But it took me a very long time to figure out why it didn’t automatically lead to success and happiness. I had done everything I was told to do, and done it well, and it wasn’t producing the promised outcomes.
I found a deep, hidden sense of confusion, resentment and outrage that life was treating me this way. It seemed unfair yet there was nothing I could honestly complain about. For some years it created a spiky competitiveness in me, as if I was driven beneath the surface to prove myself right in the face of an enemy that never existed.
I now observe people who are good looking and easily attract the opposite sex and I see the same confusion under the surface. “Why doesn’t it work? Why doesn’t it make me happy?”
And then there are the ones who are doing really well, but were told they were stupid at school. I see them running successful businesses, and not accepting how well they’re doing because stupid people can’t succeed. They must be doing something wrong.
And the hard workers – they always did what they were told and did it well, even if it meant staying up late or missing a party. They were diligent, reliable and honest. But even they can’t be sure of winning. Sometimes the tortoise wins the race, but sometimes the hare confuses the tortoise so much with all its jumping around that the tortoise stops moving all together and then it can’t win, even if it deserves to.
The greatest pain of all is in the person who had it all – great marks, tall, good looking or beautiful, outstanding at sport and hard-working. It was supposed to be a dream ticket. But the show was a disappointment. One of the stupid ones is making more money. One of the ugly ones has a more stable relationship. The lazy one seems to get more opportunity.
And happiness…well that continues to elude.
If only we could teach children to appreciate and develop their strengths and become stronger where their weaknesses matter whilst ignoring those that don’t.
But in the absence of that teaching we need to do it for ourselves and each other. We can see through the lies we’ve been told and have told ourselves about what counts in life and we can take time to work out how it really works.
And this is where it gets interesting.
- It doesn’t work to please other people all the time because you lose your sense of who you are. But you need to be able to please other people to be successful – otherwise your business will make bad products and your customer service will be terrible.
- It doesn’t work to rely on marks, grades and external measures as a judgement of your worth and yet marks, grades and measures can help you to improve your performance.
- It doesn’t work to take your natural talents for granted and yet it’s crazy not to see them as a gift.
This list could be extended, but the point is that we now need to work it out for ourselves. The formula no longer works, although there will be useful formulae along the way.
You need to figure out who you are and what you want to give to the world, and yet it’s a lot easier if you study other great people and find out how they did it. You can’t copy them – it never works, and yet it’s crazy to ignore what they learned because then you have to reinvent the wheel.
The thing is they didn’t teach this subject in school so I had no way of coming top. I’m just having to work it out for myself as I go along.