We live in an era fixated with success. Defining how it looks, who exemplifies it, or even how to get there are a few of the conundrums that surround our curiosity on success. Trying to wrap our minds around success and explore its meaning is surely understandable because who doesn’t want to be successful, whatever that might mean.
From the eye of a South-American international student who moved to Boston two years ago to pursue an undergraduate degree, life in a Western capitalist environment feels like a race just to get ahead. You need to have an outstanding education, excellent extracurricular activities, personal competency, ambitious internships, strong relationships that foster growth, and a keen willingness to learn as much as possible about yourself - all while staying passionate and genuine - so that you can one day find success.
Yet this fixed path to adulthood is being challenged more and more by our generation. We like to explore; we don’t want our credentials or arbitrary numbers to determine our self worth; we are more socially conscious and aware; we realize this path is modeled around a level of privilege that not everyone enjoys; and, we don’t want to see life pass by without enjoying and experiencing the process. Ironically, this rigid recipe for success tends to creep through our heads and occupy a small part of our minds.
Society's perception of success as a destination rather than a state of being can mean neglecting our journey to get there. There are also ethical questions that can arise along the way. For example, the innovative nature of many technological advancements can blind us during our journey and lead to personal disruption. This seems relevant now as intellectual and physical capital fosters a need for constant innovation. Currently, our focus seems to be on the Forbes 30 under 30 lists and the many ideas that have fueled million-dollar companies. In general, there seems to be less buzz (or at least news that fades away more quickly) around lawsuits filed for theft of ideas, people who reach their goals by betraying their colleagues, and/or work and time exploitation.
However, there are exceptions. For instance, when a controversial situation is leaked and turns into a scandal, successful people who compromise their ethics for personal interests seem to be shielded by their positive contributions to society. Their ingenuity and accomplishments continue to be featured in the media and they become role models. Some youth know that questionable steps were taken for them to arrive at the top, and unconsciously normalize this behavior. To mirror this seemingly positive path, going in a similar fashion might be a part of the deal. Negotiating with one's personal ethics to arrive at goals is a cause of great concern to me, and creates a gloomy vision of the future--especially because I’m part of the next wave of leaders embodying this type of thinking. However, during the 2019 WorldCom PR conference in Vienna, I was able to hear a case-study presented by an independent giant in the PR agency world that would change my perception for the better.
This agency handled crisis management for a renowned clinic that was falsely accused of holding a patient hostage. A multinational news outlet reported on a video filmed by a mother (which went viral) who helped her hospitalized young daughter escape from the institution that refused to discharge her. The clinic was condemned for this alleged practice. In reality, the patient wasn’t discharged due to medical reasons; instead, her escape was a result of a troubled and abusive family situation, which was later revealed by the patient. The PR agency didn’t want to drag the family down to clear the clinic’s name. This would have gone against the clinic's values and beliefs; therefore, they chose to pursue a different direction. As a direct result of the clinic’s good reputation, faithful followers defended the hospital on social media as soon as the news broke. The care and attention this agency and clinic took to stay true to their values, and de-escalate the harm that might have been caused to all parties, really shined through.
As I was growing up, I was told my personal values would get in the way of my professional growth and complicate things. I was criticized for being too righteous, yet stuck with my values. This meeting in Vienna reshaped my thinking: values are not impediments--they are the way for me to thrive and sustain success.