Alain de Botton examines our ideas of success and failure — and questions the assumptions underlying these two judgments. Is success always earned? Is failure? He makes an eloquent, witty case to move beyond snobbery to find true pleasure in our work.
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How many times you ended up in a situation where most of the people around you came from a more prestigious university, a richer family or a better paid job? Maybe it was a school reunion, maybe you were just introduced to your partner’s friends or maybe it was just another painful family gathering.
How many times someone was enough brave to go beyond the questions: ”In which university did you study?” or – the most threatening and absurdly demanding one – ”What do you do?”. How belittling is the feeling we experience when this is everything a stranger needs – they assume – to know in order to figure us out.
In those painfully lucid moments, it feels like someone stopped the gentle and complex flow of our lives to violently extract from it a few basic pieces of information in order to make us a standardized and, possibly, non-threatening item. To make us comparable. Possibly, with our interlocutor.
According to Alain de Botton, philosopher and co-founder of The School of Life , this is what should be defined as snobbery. In his words: ”A snob is anybody who takes a small part of you and uses that to come to a complete vision of who you are”.
According to de Botton, we long for justice and meritocracy, but a perfect meritocratic world is one in which a stardardized system of worthiness determines your place in the social and economic hierarchy. Such a world, not only is undesirable, but also, and most importantly, impossible.
This is key to remind when, for example, we apply for jobs. How can their answer, which is based on a few lines we wrote on a busy Thursday evening, accurately judge our worthiness? Should we pity and blame ourselves or should we embrace the fact that randomness is also a key variable in human life?
Keeping this in mind, it is worth wondering: can success really have an objective meaning?