How can we know if success is deserved?


I recently watched a TED video from philosopher Alain de Botton, talking about a kinder philosophy of success. There were many interesting ideas, such as:

  • Most people are snobs
  • We are in a society were we are told it is possible to achieve anything
  • We envy people who look similar to us
  • Others define what we want; society guides us into believing the definition of success

Look at how the words “people” and “society” appear on every phrase. But the talk was about success.

Because, what would success be without the population to watch it?

We tend to judge people at first glance, because we are most likely snobs. But it’s not that easy to determine whether someone is successful or not.

Successful people are rich, famous, they worked really hard, they found their true love, and their kids’s video on Youtube has made 20 million views. That’s what we normally think about success. Or at least that’s what the media says.

Which leads us to the question: Do you deserve to be successful?

You. Are you working hard enough? Are you climbing up the ladder with a terrifying force? Are you hungry enough for glory? Then you should be successful. I mean, everyone can be successful, right? But if you don’t get at the top, then you’re a failure.

That’s what our present society would like us to believe.

And, why not believe it? Even politicians agree in a world of meritocracy: the idea that success should be deserved. Isn’t it great? There’s no more feudal system anymore; you can start from the bottom and now you’re here, you know?

But the following statement of Alain de Bottom in his talk, is also true:

If you really believe in a society where those who merit to get to the top, get to the top, you’ll also, by implication, and in a far more nasty way, believe in a society where those who deserve to get to the bottom also get to the bottom and stay there.

Those who aren’t successful: did they deserve it?

Meritocracy has this philosophy: “You can achieve anything“. This is less reassuring than it claims to be. It means you have the possibility, but not the certainty. If you deserve to be successful, then you also deserve to be a failure. And that was because of YOUR choice, and not much with luck such as in the peasant-noble era.

How to deal with it?

Let’s sum up the theory of success in two points:

  1. We often view successful people as rich, famous, sparkly
  2. Success has to be deserved

Ok, but how about this instead:

  1. You view success as [add your own qualities of success]
  2. Success has to be preferred

If you view success as being a certain way, than go for it! It’s not about being a billionaire if it doesn’t apply in your definition. YES, if you were a billionaire, people would surely think you’re successful. But that makes your success a society matter, when in fact, you don’t really need an external judgement, not even a ruler to measure how much you’ve climbed.


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