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Saturday, September 6, 2014

An Ivy League Alum Explains How Prestige Can Destroy Lives

Hello there friends! 

It's been a while since I posted an entry on my blog. I've been preoccupied and have not had the chance to write about something. I came across this article, (which I decided to repost here) that I found interesting and I thought of sharing it with you. 

It talks about HUBRIS (defined as excessive pride) and how it can destroy our lives without us realising it. At the end of the day, we want to live a happy life. Who doesn't? But sometimes we might not be aware that our motivations are already flawed because of societal structures / norms. Hubris is a deterrent to that goal. As much as we want to 'be successful' in our respective fields, the article below is a good reflection on how we can avoid self-destructing.

Happy weekend!


How Prestige Destroys You

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by hubris. From an early age, they were persuaded that they had a talent in school, or excellence in some extracurricular activity; for that their names became lauded in school newspapers, emblazoned on certificates, or announced on podiums. The high of recognition was addictive, and began to slowly eclipse the achievements themselves.

As they grew older, they learned that within the message of empowerment, what most grown-ups mostly care about is prestige. If you wanted to make them proud, and earn the right to be proud yourself, the story of your life had to abound with names and titles – AP Merit Scholars, national finalists on the Policy Debate circuit, School Orchestra Leader — that would provoke an envious silence.

The students had learned that the only legitimate reason for being proud was being an object of jealousy. The future was a zero-sum game.
yale university
At the top they stood, their future lives well-defined: suited financiers, white-coated doctors, smile-forcing lawyers, pasty hackers, and turtle-necked entrepreneurs.

At some point, a few lucky ones realized that anyone who cared about the world they would leave behind, and worked to better it, had found something more precious than pride. Others never left the cult of prestige. They had scrambled to the leading edge of every bell-curved valley, and were rewarded at each peak with quick and pacifying hits of a drug called pride. It was an opiate that their lives had bathed them in, to pre-empt the fabled agony of “low self-esteem.” Many found that they couldn’t live without it.

When college acceptance letters came back, some of them ended up as the “lucky” ones. The next four years had a timeless, theatrical quality. Narration was provided by the voice of awed posterity, against a background of carillon bells and WASPy a-capella hymns. It was a time to plan for the important and visible postgraduate careers that they would be called upon to do.

But it wasn’t long before the high wore off, and the airy plateau gave way to a deeper valley. A friend, dressing impeccably, returned from an investment banking “networking session” in tears; she applied for the job, anyway. Seniors with return offers at McKinsey and Goldman Sachs moaned about their clients and bosses, and grouched about trying to move into the mythical “buy-side” — the same work, only with fewer hours.
man suit buildings

At the top they stood, their future lives well-defined: suited financiers, white-coated doctors, smile-forcing lawyers, pasty hackers, and turtle-necked entrepreneurs. At the bottom sat those whose young adult lives — a guest copywriter for a startup blog, for example — were a merciless anticlimax. How steep was the ascent? How long would it take? How many would enjoy life at the top? Did it matter?

For ever-smaller highs, pride set ever-higher expectations, and called for ever-greater sacrifice. What mattered was that those on the other side had MBAs and JDs and CFAs, that they lived in respectable places like SoHo or Berkeley. It would become perversely enjoyable, even, in doing what pride demanded – of martyring the self and its preferences, and building in their void an obedient engine of self-advancement. It was another sport to convince themselves that slaving over contract law and discounted cash flow models was a meaningful use of their young lives.

Yet four years is not fourteen or forty. And few have gasped amid pinging heart monitors that they should have made more people jealous. This is not to say that no one loves contract law, or that all flashy titles aren’t worn by people who were born for them. But most are born for something else – or more likely, for a few things else. And for them, scaling the wrong mountain takes a lifetime, even when trickles of pride numb the aching cold.
Most 20 year olds who want to be doctors are only a shade wiser than six year olds who want to be spies. And the six year old has a kind of wisdom that the 20 year old didn’t inherit: he wanted to be a spy because he thought he would like it.

Our current lexicon of work offers tellingly little guidance. We have “professions” just as we would “profess” to be good at anything, whether or not it’s true.

We have “careers” just as we would board any “carrier,” whether or not the destination is worth it. Conspicuously absent are “vocations” and “callings,” which sound touchy-feely, perhaps because they touch a nerve.
It is no coincidence that Dante imagined the prideful as stooped “carriers,” who haul crushing boulders past statues of the famously humble. Their sin was inverting the moral relationship between career and what is carried. In life, their careers didn’t serve them and hasten them to a better place; they had become careers. They had entered an unwitting servitude carrying someone else’s baggage and expectations. (The exemplars of humility are not just unburdened, but themselves made of stone.) It is probably no coincidence, either, that Dante put them in Purgatory, where their suffering would be only temporary. But I think he still went too far; a life spent that way is purging enough.

Withdrawing from hubris isn’t easy. So start by taking pride in the fact that your career is carrying you, that you haven’t confused approval with value, and that your life isn’t a zero-sum game because it isn’t a game at all.

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