Climbing Your Mountain of Success

According to the writers of Merriam-Webster, success is defined as “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.” (1) I, along with the vast majority of Americans, have accepted this interpretation up until very recently. As a junior in high school, whenever I converse with an adult I get the standard barrage of questions: where are you going to school? What do you want to study? What will your career be? When I tell them I want to major in music, I watch their faces contort into a look of pure confusion. After a few seconds they realize I’m serious and respond with rather humorous fake smiles and pitiful encouragements. I know what they are actually thinking: what on earth can you do with a degree in music? To be clear, I am aware that only the most elite musicians become wealthy on a salary purely based on musical talents. This doesn’t sway me. I can tell by the faces of my superiors that they think I am throwing my life away, running away from success. I think the opposite.

Brian Palmer, a businessman living comfortably in a San Jose suburb, has experienced the textbook success story. After years of work for the same corporation, he finally reached the position of a top-level manager — a job which offered more prestige and a heavier wallet. Throughout his journey, a life changing event weighed down on Palmer: he married and had children. Palmer, as like any motivated, rising employee, had to choose between his work and his family. He chose his career. “I was extremely success-oriented, to the point where everything would be sacrificed for the job, the career, the company,” stated Palmer. “That ain’t the way it should be.” A wake up call, his divorce, thrust Palmer into a new way of life. He suddenly had realized that “achieving wealth [and] respect” was not worth sacrificing his family life. To the analytical eye, material success means nothing. Although people occasionally scoff at the cliche line “money can’t buy happiness,” Palmer’s story is a perfect example of this. His quest for riches only left him divorced, empty, and confused. The most common reason for families splitting up in the modern age is a lack of commitment. (2) Spending extended periods of time away from home, totally engrossed in high paying jobs, servers family ties. If this situation continuously reoccurs, why do we still equate success with money, power, and the spotlight? The answer lies within the core of human ignorance. The majority of us, like Brian Palmer, must experience defeat in order to truly comprehend the unimportance of materialistic success. However, some of us seem to be born with a different view on what we should strive to accomplish in life.

A climber’s perception of success is distinct from the standard idea. “The Shark’s Fin” of Mount Meru in India has another name: the “anti-Everest”. Not only do its extremely harsh conditions and difficult obstacles require expertise in a wide range of climbing skills, it also filters out the strong-minded from the weak. Because of this, it has defeated many expert climbers. This “to a certain kind of mindset is an irresistible appeal,” says Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air. A New York Times Op-Docs video followed three climbers and their attempt to scale the infamous “Shark’s Fin”. Conrad Anker, one of the climbers, explains that he enjoys climbing because he is in total control of his destiny. He himself can decide his fate — whether to live or die — solely by holding on. Once he reaches the summit after a challenging climb, Anker describes the overwhelming feeling of success and self worth. Those who conform to the dictionary definition of success may be utterly astounded by this. How can a person be so content with something if they haven’t gained anything from the journey? Why would a person risk so much for a feeling? The polarity between these two mindsets is what determines the purpose in a person’s life. For businessmen, it’s materialistic successes. For climbers, it’s emotional successes. But what makes you more one than the other? It is all rooted in your experiences as a child.

Adolescence is an age where children are establishing their own personalities. It is also a time where they are very susceptible to incorporating opinions from other sources into their developing characters. (3) Strict parents and school requirements are the source of materialistic goals. We devote our lives to our education so in the future we can devote it yet again to our jobs. I love school and I enjoy learning, but I think some receive a corrupted message from the teachings. I grew up in a household where good grades were encouraged, not required, and had the opportunity to pursue my own interests no matter how “worthless”. Because of this, I have grown to realize that I determine what my own successes are. I don’t need something else, a definition or a person, to tell me what my goals are. I predict that most of my peers will graduate, graduate again, and then continue on to a dull office job where the most fun they have is laughing about the gurgling noise of the water jug as they fill up their bottle. I doubt that would be enough to make their experience enjoyable. Is this what we define as success? It shouldn’t be. Children should grow up in an environment where they are able to create their own meaning out of the word “success”. Not only will this create a better working environment, it will create a happier society.

In today’s day and age, transforming ideals presented in our communities will be a very difficult operation. Children are constantly exposed to extrinsic lifestyles through the media. The portrayal of celebrities in their seemingly alternate reality influences the social norms of society. Their devotion to fame, money, and self advocating behavior translate directly into the developing minds of adolescents. Children must be taught that this version of the world is extremely warped . Instead of striving to be a part of what they consider to be the upper class, they should move to break these stigmas. Zip codes, bank accounts, clothing, and cars should not be a person’s main priority — unless that is where their passions lie. The only way this will happen is through our schools and parents. By motivating students to take interest in what they are learning, to follow their own curiosities, and distance themselves from the standard perceptions, our communities will gradually become more morally diverse. One may ask, why is this important? Personally, I struggle to see the benefits of conforming to a single way of life. The concept of being a part of something bigger than myself didn’t make sense in this manner. We all have something different to contribute in relation to our interest. Why can’t we make the best of it?

The Sisyphus tale, as told by Jon Krakauer, outlines the struggle of Sisyphus as he attempts to push a boulder up a steep mountain only to have it flipped back down by a higher power. Without any end or reward, this was meant to portray the definition of hell. People still rooted within materialistic success, like Brian Palmer was, will never reach that feeling of success because they are chasing after something that has no meaning to them. Without creating your own goals, you will forever live in a state as dark and pitiful as Sisyphus’.