Bas Haring is a Dutch academic writer, who has an easy-on-the-mind way of bringing philosophy to the masses. Browsing our small town bookstore, I found his book Voor een echt succesvol leven (translation: How to really live successfully). It immediately reminded me of a young and ambitious friend of mine. So I bought the book on an impulse; meaning to give it to him as a tongue in cheek.
Well, that was 2½ months ago and I still haven’t seen my friend. The gift-wrapped book stared up at me every morning and evening, when I opened the top drawer of my commode. Finally, I tore up the wrapping and started reading.
The book’s a parody on self-help success books. Typical of the subject, it’s a long drag here and there. But on the whole, it’s very witty and sometimes even full in your face hilarious.
Haring breaks down the myths of success, using the animal kingdom, consumer goods and other metaphors. He proves his point that you don’t succeed because you’re essentially good at what you do, but more likely because you’re good at surviving. Surviving here meaning, knowing how to ‘market’ yourself and therefore guaranteeing continuity. For continuity equals success. The etymology (what a lovely word!) of success implies continuity.
Guust Verpaalen is a renowned speaker around these parts. His talks are generally on successful leadership. He explained to a group of us a while back, that success has to do with ‘Houding – Verhouding – Inhoud’. Roughly translated: ‘Your attitude’, ‘How you relate to others’ and ‘What you know’. These 3 success elements are in the proportion of 60 : 30 : 10. ‘What you know’ is the least of the three.
What Haring and Verpaalen are both saying, is that — contrary to what I want (to believe) — knowledge is not the key factor to being successful. Acting and looking successful is. Presentation prevails. And there goes success myth #1.
My mother used to say: “Aim high, there’s always room at the top”. And I love her for it. She instilled in me a passion for learning. Yet without realising it, we were caught in the cycle of handing down another success myth. From elder to child.
Haring shatters this institutionalised myth. He states that we sheepishly aim for the top, simply because it’s a clear-cut objective that maps out our path in life. Only to later discover, that when we’ve reached the top and we’re perceived as a success, it doesn’t automatically mean we also have complete bliss.
He argues that the top is often not all it’s cut out to be. Especially when we lose sight of the surrounding beauty along the road, we might just be disappointed when we finally get there. Success myth #2.
All in all, I enjoyed the book. As for me, I identify with Haring’s Mrs Crab; the type who concentrates on enjoying the journey, not the destination. And yes, I still plan to give it to my friend.
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