Sunday, October 12, 2008

Redefining Success in a Post Bling World

It seems like I am not the only one who has had it with greed, selfishness and decadence.

Richard Fuld, the former CEO of the now bankrupt Lehman Brothers (a CEO who made $300 million dollars since 2000) was punched in the face at the company gym. (Man, that must have felt good.) Americans are up in arms about the $440,000 retreat taken by AIG executives right after we bailed them out with our tax money. And we sent thousands of emails to try and stop the bailout to begin with, mostly because we didn't want to help a bunch of overpaid, greedy, schmucks keep their millions.

So the million dollar question is - Will it stick? Is this a momentary hiccup or is something more substantial happening here? And if it is something more substantial, what does America look like if we're not all aiming for boundless riches? Will The Apprentice get cancelled? Will the Sex and the City women start wearing Converse? Will the $10 million stable full of thoroughbreds in this year's Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog go unpurchased? God I hope so.

What if the United States wasn't like an overgrown middle school? What if nobody cared whose name was sewn on the ass of your jeans or what car you drive (or if you drive one at all)? What if, given the choice between a new flatscreen and more time with the kids, everyone chose the latter? What if we redefined our idea of success?

Up until now, success for most people seemed to be based on how much stuff they had or what they could get. Success meant career "advancement," a mcmansion in the suburbs, designer clothes, the right car, resort vacations, and lots of toys (adult and child-sized). We filled our lives with things, hoping each new thing would be the one that finally made us feel good about ourselves. Success was measured by how far "above" other people one progressed, because success entailed an illusion of superiority.

Now what if we judged success differently. What if the most successful people were the ones who were truly happy? What if our jobs supported our lives instead of our lives supporting our jobs? What if we admired people who had the most time to spend with the people they loved? What if we congratulated the people who left work on time and not the ones who stay at the office until midnight? What if we just shook our heads and chuckled at people who spent all their time trying to keep up with Joneses? What if their were no Joneses to keep up with?

Financially, things are going to get tougher for a lot of people and attitudes are likely to change out of necessity. Perhaps this is just the kick in the pants we need. Perhaps we'll start buying less, conserving more, fixing things, and rethinking our priorities. Perhaps we can build a culture where it is the greedy who are pariahs and not the poor.

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