Humankind has achieved so much. We have left our own planet; delved deep into the mysteries of life itself. We have created life and lengthened it. We have made our planet smaller and more connected. Add your own items to the list of Achievements.
Achievement. We raise our children for it. We educate for it. We reward it. We regard those who achieve as cultural heroes and accord them extraordinary privileges, role models to inspire ourselves to do better, to reach our own personal Everest.
Achievement. It is like a power pack driving us on, driving us towards something both personal and social.
In order to achieve anything we suggest that people have ambition, set goals for themselves. Not to have ambition nor to strive towards a goal, well you are a selfish, lazy good-for-nothing who is letting everyone else down. How dare you!
We all accept that achieving something is good. When we win, or get that promotion we’d been working so hard for, our brain releases dopamine – the pleasure chemical. It is addictive. Drugs like cocaine amplify the feel-good effects of dopamine. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dopamine).
That says something about our cultural addiction to Achievement.
Now I don’t want to belittle what humankind has achieved up to now. I’m writing a blog on a computer which might be read by someone on the other side of the world within minutes of its posting – I couldn’t be doing this if incredible people hadn’t put their minds and energy to work to make it possible. We all enjoy the fruits of others’ achievements.
And yet, as with all things, their is another side to our cultural obsession with Achievement; a yin to the cultural yang.
Psychologist Dr Steve Peters, in his book The Chimp Paradox, uses the parable of the Fridge Door Syndrome to reveal how the cultural focus on Achievement affects our lives, and not in a good way.
As parents, do we praise our children for who they are or what they have done? If we praise our children for what they do and what they achieve then they develop a belief that they are only worthy if they achieve. If they are loved and respected for who they are without having to do anything to receive love, then their self-worth is more secure.
Peters writes: “…all too many of us are fearful of how we do and what others will think…many people suffer emotionally because they are constantly worried about what others think of them.”
The pursuit of Achievement can therefore be like living our lives as if we’re always trying to please someone else; as if someone else has written the script of our lives for us and we mindlessly throw ourselves into it as if it’s the only possible script there is for us.
So as we live our lives, I think we should just be aware of who we’re living it for. If we’re seeking Achievement to impress some significant other from our childhood we could be making ourselves very unhappy.