Faulty Symbols of Success
BY: T. Franklin Murphy |May 2018
Chasing Power and Money for Security
How do we measure success? Does our bank account, car and position determine our worth as a human?
The human child is completely dependent on caregivers for survival. We don’t have sharp fangs, penetrating claws, or the protective aide of sensitive sight and sound to discern danger. We would be extinct if it wasn’t for our amazing ability to pool resources, work together, and build complex communities. These skills require a big brain that learns. In many ways, we are not that different from other organisms. We are driven by instinct, motivated by emotions. Our emotions just motivate us to think and connect.
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Our cognitive brain measures emotions, evaluates faces, and determines safety. Properly guided, a child develops the intricacies of interaction, and grows into a healthy adult with healthy relationships. But some children receive fragmented lessons in connections, socialized in broken homes with chaotic adaptations. These children are still driven to connect; their large human brains, however, were not given proper information to effectively understand the societal demands.
The normal emotions of sadness, guilt, fear, and anger are felt and integrated into a response. The healthy child allows the feelings to guide a proper action that connects the child to the surrounding group, benefitting the individual and the community. The self-confidence of the child grows with age appropriate contributions to society. As an adult member of a complex world, we learn trades necessary to participate in life, knowing that our involvement makes us a productive member, ensuring our acceptance in a group. In the technical age, the growing complexity often blurs the appropriateness of our contributions, we subsequently weigh our importance by the tangible compensation received for our work and determine worth by the numbers on our paycheck.
Our success as adults isn’t always discernible to the self. We absorb childhood labels of insufficiency and continue to carry these beliefs as adults; although we may make notable contributions to society, a nagging insecurity insists we don’t. These disturbing feelings create disrupting doubts in two fundamental areas of adult life—work and love. We fear insufficient worth to a partner and community, driving an insatiable hunger to achieve more power and more money to prove we are valuable. We gather symbols of worth. Instead of mastering connection, or improving contributions to the whole, the ailing soul frantically seeks proof—sex and money.
"We absorb childhood labels of insufficiency and continue to carry these beliefs as adults; although we may make notable contributions to society, a nagging insecurity insists we don’t."
We accumulate items that sparkle, showing to the world we are important; a car, a watch, a title, the latest iPhone, or pair of Air Jordan’s. We indiscriminately pursue sexual liaisons rather than work through the complicated maze of intimacy. The symbols superficially satisfy the sense of worth, broadcasting to their community that we are valuable contributors—and accepted.
The insecure settle for a maladjusted adaptation to internal drives to belong, seeking proof rather than being proof; to have rather than be. Some young adults have not successfully developed the necessary skills to prevail over the tasks of adulthood—to work and to love. Other adults succeed at the tasks but fail to accurately assess their competence. Either way, the misguided person focuses on extrinsic goals to prove to themselves and others their importance. High grades, money, possessions and status become the motivating goals.
These shallow achievements provide some momentary pleasures but miss the mark by failing to satisfy the underlying evolutionary drive to be a valued member of society and to be securely loved. Successful fulfillment of the drive is achieved through intrinsic goals of developing competence in important activities, developing deeper relationships, finding meaning, and passing on discovered wisdom to others. The intrinsic goals establish a clear identity of importance, with confidence to master internal drives in a productive manner. We become rather than accumulate. Certainly, the act of becoming also achieves many of the successes of wealth and status. The person who becomes of value to the community, expresses their worth through action.
This is the purpose of our big brain; to learn the rules of society, becomes a valuable member, fellowshipped into a healthy community, leading others to the enjoyments of being. This is not denial of the self but the mature adaptations of internal drives to live a healthy and happy life in a complex and unpredictable world.