It has become a common occurrence to encounter those who become smug in success or those who become self-reproachful in failure. We see ourselves as the authors of our lives and this is where begins meritocracy & hollow motivation. Believing that one’s fate depends on internal factors only (like performance and efforts) is not only deluding but damaging too. The idea that one’s success has no luck involved is indeed haughty and leads to a demeaning attitude to those with ‘less success’.
Internalizing the notion that ‘we are in control of our lives’ is harmful for the winners and the ‘losers’ both. American Economist Robert H. Frank, who is also the author of the book ‘Success and Luck’ (2016), says, ‘Believing that all the good fortune that came your way was “earned” in the traditional sense is a very difficult claim to sustain once you look at how the competitions unfold and the role chance events play in all our lives.’ Moreover, the belief naturally posits that those who don’t succeed are deficient, and somehow deserve the misfortune.
We, humans, tend to come up with a reason/explanation to things that are outside of our knowledge in order to make sense out of it. We make it difficult for ourselves because we want to judge and validate events to have an objective reasoning when the reality isn’t so much charged with logic. The idea of meritocracy helps us to do something similar by justifying the status quo.
The establishment of egalitarianism and democracy proves that society is now more meritocratic than ever before. There’s this sense of ‘even playing field for all’ because more and more people are making it big today with talent and hard-work; their stories are everywhere and their pictures are the background for motivational quotes. However, we don’t live in a perfectly meritocratic society, contrary to popular belief.
British-Swiss philosopher Alain de Botton says, “Modern civilization itself could be viewed as a gigantic protest against the role of chance in human affairs. Science, insurance, medicine, and public education take up arms against luck, and have won enormous battles against it, so many in fact, that it has grown devilishly tempting to believe that we may have vanquished luck and chance altogether.”
If you believe in free will, there will still be things that are uncontrollable and unexplainable. If you believe in determinism, it doesn’t mean you sit idle and watch life unfold; you can and should work towards your goal. Motivational gurus love to preach that ‘anyone can make it, you just have to be passionate!’ But how to cope in case one still faces failure? Unfortunately, that is seldom addressed.
The movie Chhichhore struck a chord with many, as it goes against the grain. Spoilers alert (although, I think everyone must have watched it by now.) The protagonist’s team, despite working hard, doesn’t win the mega competition. Yet the movie has a fulfilling, happy ending. The antagonist from the winning team genuinely compliments them for putting up a good fight. The protagonist’s son, who attempted suicide for not getting into his dream college, is content with the college he eventually gets in.
Failure should be an acceptable norm in every way. The mantra of ‘blocking out negative thoughts’ like the thought of losing shouldn’t be promoted because it denies reality. The point is to get comfortable with failure and awkward moments so we don’t deprecate our self-image. This way we have less to lose and more to gain by trying.
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