Success, what is it? Part Two

Wow, my world has changed in the last 7 days. Everyone’s world has. I just have to mention this before getting on with this week’s topic on success. I’m now working at home, my partner has no work, and New Zealand has been put into lock-down for one month, which started two days ago. I really hope we can beat this thing. Statistics around the world are becoming more and more disturbing and, at times, it is difficult to maintain positivity. However, I have been turning to my creative outlets. Even the smallest of things I create are bringing some joy.

And, to me, my blog is one of my creative outlets, so, ‘success’, in a time of uncertainty.

What is success?

Last week I introduced the idea of individual success and personal success. So, just to catch up anyone that hasn’t read part one I will outline the definitions. Individual success is how you succeed on your own within a group, and how that group view this success. Personal success is what you believe to be successful. They can be the same thing, but more than often, they are not.

New app I’m plying with: Rookie Cam

Last week I also conveyed the idea that the American Dream is linked to a certain way western culture think about succeeding and particular outcomes which contribute to this.

I’ve (surprisingly) meet quite a few people who do not believe that, living in New Zealand, American culture has a lot to do with us. I find this surprising, I just think it is so obvious, but anyway…

When my daughter was around 4 – 6 years of age she would often have friends around to play. I would pop my head in from time to time to see what they were doing and noticed how they spoke to each other in an American accents. Most other parents I talked to also commented on this. Over the years I’ve reflected on this. Of course she was modelling play-time from TV shows. Television is where she saw ‘pretending’ and so it is fair to say that she was mimicking this as a learning tool.

At that time less than 20% of our television was created in New Zealand.

I know this is purely anecdotal, however the American Dream is a way of viewing success and I believe it has filtered into every aspect of western culture. And, of course, New Zealand is not alone in this. How we view success is often mediated through privileged American thought. What American media deem to be successful is now how we rate individual success.

We understand our world, decipher meaning, and interpret society from what is happening at THAT specific time and space. My great, great grandmother was a successful mid-wife, her community (a small local in the South Island of New Zealand), thought of her as successful, she did not have the American Dream slanted reality to live up to. Her specific time and space brought about specific understandings of the world.

However, my community is world-wide, the potential for me to have community success is a lot more treacherous. Success, for me in my time and space, is not just being successful at a particular ‘thing’ in the community, it is about money, fame, beauty, winning, overcoming in order to have a ‘success story’; the list goes on. And none of it is particularly useful. However, like my daughter, we mimic and interpret our particular time and space.

This is why I think that individual success and how it is measured is particularly difficult for creatives to navigate. Creatives and creativity are seen and measured within harsher parameters than many other activities or professions. Writing a novel is not celebrated, it’s only taken notice of when it’s on a best sellers list, films are measured on box-office takings, albums are measured on sales, paintings on their auction price. Money directly linked to the outcome of the creative arts.

I’m in no way saying that monetising what creatives do is not important, I’m just saying it’s not everything. I’ve been to plenty of films with huge box office takings that in my opinion they were not successful films. What they succeeded at was fitting a mould for a market – and that is all.

The value of individual success rapidly lessens when you carefully consider what it means in western culture. Personal success is where we should all be challenging ourselves with. Understanding what we believe success to be. Not what a monetised system tells us it is.

I asked Facebook friends to share their definition of success and I was pleasantly surprised by the answers. Most were more focused on personal success and not what western culture was alluding to. But that cultural pressure is there, and trying to navigate personal success over individual success for most is a battle.

If you are content, challenged, interested, engaged in your own creative activities – take some comfort. That is success. It doesn’t need to be measured by someone else to be valid.

That’s all for now – I will come back to this topic at another time.

Catch you next week xx

Success, what is it? Part One

I’ve been thinking about the term success and what it means, especially for creatives or the creative industry. It’s a strange time to discuss the term success, with everything going on. However, maybe it is also an amazing opportunity to reflect on social constructs, maybe during this time it is easier to see what is important.

The word ‘success’ started as a neutral term. It wasn’t good or bad, it was just an outcome. It fits into the process of doing something, the result neither positive nor negative. Think of the word succeed, not in its positive connotation but in the succession of things. Something will succeed another. The Latin past participle of success is succedere, meaning come after, go near to, come under, take the place of. Ced, cess and ceed all mean go. So, you can see that the word originated with the outcome of a process in mind and not the calculated value of that outcome. 

However, from the late 19 century the term success held a ‘positive’ tone within it. Success was now in opposition to failure. Both outcomes, but now with very different meanings. Success began to weave its way into modern modes of being in the world. What it was to have success, be successful, have a success story

Side Note: ‘success story’ was believed to be first termed in France as a critique on literary work. Not because the work was brilliant but rather as to its scandalous character. 

The merriam-webster dictionary defines success as:

  • a degree or measure of succeeding
  • favourable or desired outcome
  • one that succeeds
  • outcome – obsolete

The original “outcome”, (not positive or negative), now obsolete. 

So, success, the definition of a positive outcome, an outcome that meets the intention; and a successful person, (someone who succeeds), must therefore be a person who often meets their desired goal or intention. Seems simple enough. 

I need to vacuum because the house is dirty. I vacuum. Success!

However, success has another layer. The word connotes a mode of success that does not simply mean a positive outcome. We all know this. It has its negative side. And this is what I want to pull out and explore in relation to the arts and being a creative.  

When you Google success, definitions come up, and courses on how to be successful, which when you think about it – it’s odd. How can you teach someone to be successful when all success is – is a positive outcome!? Wouldn’t it depend on the intention? So, here is the problem. Success in our modern western world is obviously not about a positive outcome, it is about a SPECIFIC outcome. Wealth being the number one, along with winning, and fame being another and there is a few more definitions that point to a ‘successful person, who has a ‘success story’…

When we hear about successful stories it is about people who have met this SPECIFIC outcome and only this outcome.  

Hartmut Keil defines the American Dream as being:

Individual success, advancement, materialism, personal success, neighbourliness, naturalness, individuality, freedom, equality, equal opportunity, search for identity, nation purpose, American consciousness, democratic dream, dream of paradise, moving force, liberation of humanity, world’s salvation.

I find it interesting that he uses ‘success’ twice. Once for ‘individual success’, and then for ‘personal success’?? 

What I garner from this, is the individual success is of that person, rather than of a group. They have achieved something on their own while being recognised by a group. This part is important to point out as individual and group have a relation, for the success to come from an individual, first they have to be part of a group.

While personal success is something, they ‘own’, as in, they believe they have been successful in something. For example, you could have a businessperson, who is deemed successful by others, however, the same successful person, may believe their real success is being able to spend time with family and friends… you know what I mean.

So according to Keil there seems to be two ways to measure success. 

Individual success: what others think about our success in relation to what is culturally deemed as successful.

Personal success: What we believe our success to be.

I want to point out here that contemporary society is structured so certain types of employments or interests are deemed of different value.

For example, a singer can become known by being good at what they do, the more known the singer is the more is attributed to success. However, a plumber, (for example), doesn’t usually become known – society does not expect this of them to deem them as successful

For creatives, often, fame, or being ‘known’, is linked to individual success. The stakes are high. And because of this, individual success or the lack of it weighs creatives down.

This is where we can turn to personal success. I’m not (in anyway) saying that individual success is not something to aim for or have goals or dreams about, what I’m saying is that personal success needs to be valued higher. Creating is a quality of the human experience that needs to be celebrated no matter what. And we need to hold onto what we LOVE about this process and experience and not what others think of it.

We can’t control others’ thoughts. We can’t control what society deems as important one month and of little value the next. But we can control how we feel about our own creativity.

There is more I want to write on this, and so will return next week to this subject. I just want to acknowledge I brought the American Dream into the picture by quoting Hartmut Keil and there is good reason for that, but not enough time in this post.

So, if interested, please return and read part two.

Catch you next week xx