The Anxiety of Success

As most middle-aged people tend to do — and I can’t fool myself; I am middle-aged — I have been questioning where I’ve come from and where I’m going, and what am I doing that has any merit. Sure, I’ve been exploring meditation as an exercise in “letting go”, of not forming attachments to anything that can arise from the mind (like, say, wondering what it is I’m working for and when I’ll have more money). But one thing that keeps coming up is that discovering one’s own “true nature” is the key to freedom from the suffering brought about by attachment.

I’ve been thinking about this and I’m wondering if my own true nature is to achieve some goal, to attain some status — in my own eyes, and in the eyes of others; if I lack the motivation to resist and undo the years of conditioning by parents, the Western education machine and the countless hours spent doing, essentially, mundane and ultimately pointless tasks at a job.

As it happens, I received a message today from my good friend, Pete, to watch this video of Alain de Botton talking about his view on success:

When you can’t relate to someone, you don’t envy them. The closer two people are in age, in background, in the process of identification — the more there’s a danger of envy. Which is why none of you should ever go to a school reunion… It’s probably [as] unlikely that nowadays you will become as rich and famous as Bill Gates as it was unlikely in the 17th century that you would accede to the ranks of the French aristocracy.

But the point is it doesn’t feel that way. It’s made to feel — by magazines and other media outlets — that if you’ve got energy, a few bright ideas about technology [and] a garage, you, too, could start a major… thing.

1 comment
  1. Pete said:


    He’s got a new book out entitled ‘The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work’. I haven’t read it yet, but if it’s as good as his other stuff then it could be well worth a purchase.

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