Success doesn’t equal happiness

Heather Havrilesky in The New York Times:

AmyThat’s the message coming in loud and clear in this dawning era of transparency, whether it’s embodied in enraged emails from a powerful movie producer or depressive tweets from a wealthy celebrity. But success without popularity doesn’t count, either. Slipping into the shadows in the wake of an achievement is no longer an option; you must re-enact your value in real time, on a world stage, via conferences, TED talks, panels, festivals, radio appearances and podcasts, all the while conjuring a level of poise and grace that was once the sole purview of news anchors and talk-show hosts. This is the paradox of the modern digital world: It demands broadcast-quality demonstrations of social value, even as it steadily erodes our ability to deliver them. Enter: a brand new era of self-help books in which happiness not only takes precedence over success, but poise and popularity sometimes seem to take precedence over skill or originality or productivity. If the Gilded Age celebrated the inventor and the innovator, our modern age wants to transform us all, no matter what we do, into some combination of expert, pop star and beneficent guru. We are all meant to be as charismatic as Steve Jobs or Oprah, with our creations always secondary to the spectacle of our passionate, unfailingly genuine personalities.

No wonder such books toggle unnervingly between awkward confession and ephemeral vision quest. Exemplifying this potent mix are Amy Cuddy’s “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges” and Shonda Rhimes’s “Year of Yes.” Both books begin with the specter of success without happiness, success without camera-ready poise, success haunted by “impostor syndrome” and flop sweats and panic attacks. And both books resolve in a triumph of rousing speechifying and charming talk-show-circuit shenanigans — the new, truest measure of postmodern, high-capitalist victory.

More here.