When were growing up, my brother used to have the following poem on his wall:
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
Success, attrib. Emerson (possibly)
It is a nice poem (you can tell I’ve got a PhD in literature, can’t you?). Nevertheless, it makes me sad. My brother is disabled and hasn’t achieved all of these supposedly tiny, natural things. He has my respect, and my children love him. But it’s not quite the same. Perhaps we shouldn’t set any universal standards for success; it’s always a bloody minefield.
I say all this, but I have in my hand a copy of August’s Glamour. And right there on page 26, it’s none other than Tory MP Louise Mensch, taking me to task for my pathetic ambivalence towards success:
Success. It’s a big word [it's not, Louise]. And, contrary to what you hear from some quarters, it’s not a dirty one. Success is empowering. Success gives you freedom. But to get it, you have to cast aside the clichés and rethink the rules.
To be honest, when I see “success” being used in such a way, I can’t help thinking that what Mensch really means is “money”. But then she also uses the word “money” in the next paragraph, so let’s give her the benefit of the doubt (I mean, isn’t it about time someone gave Louise Mensch a chance to make herself heard?). Louise wants us all to have “success”. Shouldn’t we give it a try?
Having established that a) some of us hate success, and b) we shouldn’t, Louise goes on to advise us on how we can all achieve it (but not before telling us “remember: to succeed, you must believe you are worth it”. I guess that’s directed at all those people who consider themselves entirely unworthy of success, and yet think they deserve it at the same time).
According to Louise, a significant factor holding us back is our belief that “money is the root of all evil”. To be honest, I don’t think that myself. I like money. I can spend it on the mortgage and cheesecake and shoes for my kids and monthly direct debits to all the “misguided” lefty projects I can think of. As a means of exchange, I think it works pretty well. If you want the root of all evil, Louise, I’d suggest you look to your own sodding party. But hey, this is Glamour, and we’re not being political, are we? So let’s get back to what Louise has to say on our pennies:
Money is freedom [see, I knew it was a synonym for success!]. Women are told to look for ‘job satisfaction’, and often take poorly paid jobs in ‘interesting’ fields. That’s OK at 21, but as you get older, you’ll look at your peers driving nice cars and buying flats, and your red bank statements will make your stomach churn. If you can, go for an industry where there is a possibility of high pay.
This would be hilarious, wouldn’t it, if it wasn’t so fucking terrifying? Here we have a prominent MP who apparently doesn’t have a sodding clue that the financial crisis ever happened. Does she seriously believe young people have a choice? “If you can, go for an industry where there is a possibility of high pay.” Hahahahahahahahaha. (Actually, if I’m honest, I’m someone who chose to work in an ‘interesting’ lower-paid field. But it’s one in which, 30 years ago, you could still be on the lower rungs and purchase a house on a single salary. These days you can’t and I’m pretty sure it’s got bugger all to do with people like me demanding that life be ‘interesting’.)
Now that we have established that wanting to be in a job that pays you lots of money is A Good Thing, Louise goes on to tell we reticent ladies that we need to ask for even more:
Calmly ask your boss for what you want. Set goals. Men do it all the time. Women have to learn it. “I want a promotion.” “I want a pay rise.” “I want to work on that key account.”
Clearly Louise hasn’t heard of the research which indicates that when women make the same career demands as men, they tend to be viewed in a far more negative light not only than men, but than women who make no demands at all. Not asking for more is, if anything, a tactical route to getting as much as possible. But let’s not worry about Louise being unaware of this; she’s still got the credit crunch of 2008 to catch up on.
You may now be thinking that, now you have your imaginary job in a well-paid field and have asked for, and got, your imaginary pay rise, it may seem appropriate to work your arse off. But no! Remember Del and Rodney: only fools and horses work! For that is Louise’s next message:
Know who get rich? People who own things, not people who do things (pop/movie stars excepted). Consider Martha Lane Fox, Anita Roddick and Tamara Mellon. All entrepreneurs who started their own companies.
Well, thanks for that, Louise. That was a bit fucking honest. It’s the haves who, um, get to have more stuff. Well, there’s a surprise. And yes, the “entrepreneur” bit is meant to suggest we can all be self-made “haves”. But it’s a bit sodding unlikely. Not without investment. Investment from the already-haves.
It is at this point that I am struggling to go through in detail all the other points that Louise includes in her list. I am getting bored and if you are still reading this, you will be getting bored, too. So here is a brief summary of the Louise Mensch guide to success/money:
- Money is good
- Asking for more money is good
- Getting as much money as possible for as little work as possible is good
- You don’t have any loyalty to anyone but yourself
- You are Gordon Gecko out of Wall Street. Only with a good-quality bra and an ill-advised silvery top
It’s all a bit frightening isn’t it? It’s barely surprising, then, that when Louise gets to the last point in her list of success “hows”, she actually starts to go a little bit mental:
If wishes were horses … Ah, but they are horses, and the most reliable ones that will ever carry you. You might not get wish number one, but you may get something just as big and just as good.
Eh? Is it just me, or does that metaphor totally break down? In that last line, are we still talking about horses or not? Because I’ve never had any horses, big or small, and I don’t see horse selection as relevant to my own, or most other people’s, experience.
Well anyhow, I look at all this and I still prefer my brother’s poem. At least it doesn’t tell you that in order to be successful, you have to be a soulless bastard. And it doesn’t include stupid metaphorical horses. But most of all I prefer to value people who are genuinely successful within the context of their own lives.