The Word “Success” Desperately Needs A Rebrand
Be successful. Be successful. Be successful.
On reflection I realise the school I attended was definitely a feminist school. It was an all-girls, pep-talking, confidence-growing powerhouse of a building. It was drummed into each and every one of us, every day, that we would “be successful”. Whatever we went onto do, whether we wanted to be a vet or a psychologist or a mountain biker or a lawyer or whatever; all the teachers we came across every day would tell us we could all do whatever we wanted to do.
We were all permanently high on the idea of succeeding, which was great but also slightly intense. How could I stomach failing at anything after being told to “be successful” daily from such an early age? The teachers weren’t necessarily pushy, just really really optimistic. Like on the last day of A-Levels: “When you get out there in the big wide world, girls, grab the bull by its horns! Spread your wings! Go go! Make your mark! Don’t take no for an answer!” I don’t really remember a competitive atmosphere either because everyone in the class was so different. There were the musical geniuses, the astronauts, the sporty girls who would play for the country, the doctors, the theatrical talents, the hardcore academics that would go on to do PHDs, and so on.
But I often went home thinking: succeed doing what? What on earth was my thing? How would I be “successful”? And most of all: what does success actually mean? Luckily I had different examples of success in my family so I knew that success for me wasn’t necessary just a straight line. And luckily didn’t have to involve a grey suit to get the nod of approval.
Zosia Mamet wrote a really nice piece in US Glamour about success. She was reflecting on the word, the meaning, the stereotype. She asked the reader whether she would be deemed “successful” if she wasn’t a TV-celeb in GIRLS but had her own bakery in Vermont making her own mini-muffins instead. Good question Zosia. What is it about celebrity status, power or wealth that gets you a special mention at a dinner party about “so-so is doing REALLY well, very successful in her field.” Why don’t the quieter ones, or the ones happy raising a family at home, or doing something a bit niche or less known, not really given the same “success” limelight?
When I have these reflective moments on a specific word I often go back to basics, just like I would when writing a school essay and look up the definition on Oxford Dictionary. Typing in “success” I get three results staring back at me:
1) The attainment of fame, wealth, or social status
2) A person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains fame, wealth etc
3) The good or bad outcome of an undertaking
Number 1 and 2 make me want to vom.
For “success” to be synonymous only with “fame or wealth” is seriously damaging. Especially in a world that is becoming increasingly materialistic and social media-obsessed.
For women to be having “handlifts” (like a facelift but for your hand so your engagement ring can look “pretty”) or foot surgery, so that your delicate little toes can be lopped off or tampered with so they can fit in a ridiculous inhumane shoe – or the fact that girls now pay up to £80 for a hair stylist to come round just to do their hair before entering a nightclub, it is worrying this meaning of success is permeating society. For a stint on Big Brother to be deemed “more successful” (money and fame) versus someone who has an off-screen job [insert any other career here that doesn’t involve “celebrity status”] is seriously grim. Same with football culture.
Zosia’s article really made me reflect on my own personal definition of success and I hope it made others do that too. It’s tricky to identify what exactly we want to achieve in our lifetimes but one thing is for sure: everyone’s goals are different. When I look around me at my boyfriend, colleagues, best friends, each and every one of us having different things we need to do and achieve. It’s a case of baby-steps until we get there.
New Year’s Eve has always been quite a big deal for me, because I have to know I’ve done something that year that is moving me forward. Towards my own personal goal.
When I think of “success” I think of every single person that set out to do something and did it. And that includes all those people that tried and failed hard only to pick themselves up time and time again to battle through and finally say “I made it”. Or “I’m on my way”.
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