The Value of Success

It was not until I had lived with my wife for a few years that I fully understood that beauty was to women what success was to men. This is not to say that we men do not worry about our bald spots and our abs and our back hair, or that women cannot catch a full-blown case of the success disease (just ask Laura Munson). But the similarity between women’s impossible relationship to physical beauty, and men’s suicidal relationship to success is the Ying and Yang of human suffering. At least for women a dialogue about beauty has begun. It started with the outrage of early feminism, but has since moved on to subtler questions of power and femininity and mothers and safety and on and on. Women’s attempt to untangle their value from their cup size or waistline may take generations, but I have hope, given the current trajectory, that such a time may come.

It is quite a different story for men. The subject of success is virtually taboo. It is discussed only in terms of its absolute necessity. We are in this way very much like lifelong athletes, with success being victory in our chosen game. The athlete cannot question the value of winning; it is why the game is played. It is also only natural to compare one’s victories (if you have any) to the other athletes to know your relative value in this endless sport.

Success is our physical safety and our emotional safety. Success will determine where we live, if and what we eat, how high we believe we can hold our head at a party, and even whom we marry. It can become the whole measurement of our lives, and it is virtually meaningless. There is no finish line. The Pulitzer Prize winner can feel a failure for never having won a Nobel.

In the end, however, men and women’s agony remains exactly the same. Measuring your value by success or beauty is like measuring your feet to find your hat size. You will only come away wondering why you cannot find the answer. You could have sworn you had been told you would find it there. Strange also that as soon as you cease your measuring something akin to value speaks to you, in a tone you have long recognized, saying, “Stop looking and you will find me.”

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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