The Illusion of Success: the Story of Rocky, the Ambitious High-Achiever Who Became a Button-Presser
Rocky is a highly curious person who wants to be exceptional. He has a question many people have. How can I be extraordinary?
I want to be the best version of me I can be. I want success.
First things first, Rocky studies hard and is admitted into a notable college.
Four years later, he graduates with a degree in liberal arts. He is recruited by a reputable company. They have high revenues, distinguished clientele, and accomplished staff.
The recruiter says, “we would like to offer you the role of Senior Associate of Button Pressing Operations. Despite the title, it is an important position. All of our products and services depend on it.”
“Hmmm,”Rocky says. “Pressing buttons, or button-pressing operations, however you define it, doesn’t seem true to my nature, strengths, and abilities. I am more of a creative person. I would prefer a more strategic role.”
“You finished school recently,” she says. “At your age, you should explore. What you need is to surround yourself with accomplished people. Your boss is accomplished. He is Chief Director of Global Button Pressing Operations. You will learn so much from him.”
She continues, “we believe you will have a wonderful career here. With hard work and discipline, we will make you a success. Have I mentioned the handsome pay?”
Rocky is handsome. His grooming supplies and education loans have left him with a hefty debt. Time is of the essence.
Reputable Company + Important Job + Accomplished Boss + High Salary + Hard Work = Success. Right? His stomach churns.
With no time left to think, he slides his fingers through his silky hair and responds, “Why, yes, I am handsome, thank you. I accept your offer. After all, successful people are important people. I want to be successful; therefore, if I am important, then I will be successful.”
“Terrific!” the recruiter responds, agreeing with Rocky’s logic.
Rocky spends 4 years pressing buttons. He thinks, if I work quickly and for many hours each day, I will most certainly grow to be the best button-presser in the world! I will pay off my debts. My boss will think I am phenomenal. He is accomplished. I will follow in his footsteps and earn a fancier and more important title. People will like me. I will be a great success. I will be extraordinary.
And people do like Rocky. In fact, he makes many new like-minded friends along the way, although he never hears from that recruiter again.
Together with his colleagues, he “works hard and plays hard.” He presses buttons for long hours each day. He guzzles coffee, eats glutinous meals, enjoys a nonstop fountain of scotch, wine, and fine beers, and what’s left of his precious time is spent watching mundane television shows and betting on sports games.
It feels good to be part of a team. It feels good to be needed. It feels good to bond. The team’s mantra is, “we’re in the bunker together!”
But Rocky’s gut feeling is slowly turning into a gut problem. He visits the doctor.
Doc says, “your stomach is growing a hole in it. I’m prescribing you meds.”
Rocky says, “will they work?”
Doc smiles. “They should lessen the symptoms.”
Rocky assumes, it’s all part of growing older. This is normal, right? Doesn’t everyone’s health deteriorate with age?
“Thank you,” he says, and he takes the meds.
The next day, Rocky plans to hop back into work as usual. But the meds make him dizzy. He can barely get out of bed.
He takes a deep breath. It feels good, so he takes a few more. And a few more after that.
Suddenly he thinks, wait a minute, why is life a bunker? Are we soldiers in war? I am a button-presser. That shouldn’t be our mantra. Maybe I need a vacation.
He can’t remember the last time he went on vacation. He books a trip and off he goes!
It’s beautiful there. Walking along the beach, he looks up at the sky. The sun warms his cheeks. The ocean glimmers.
“Eureka!” He smiles. “I have an idea!”
Eagerly the next week, he returns to work. “I have an idea,” he exclaims. “It will revolutionize button-pressing forever. No human shall have to waste his precious life pushing buttons this way! Just imagine the joy we will bring!”
His boss laughs. “Nice idea,” he says. “But it’s not realistic. Looks like you’ve got a little too much sun.”
Rocky is confused. His stomach burns. He wonders, what am I doing here? What is my purpose?
He confides to his friends. “What should I do? My stomach isn’t sitting right. Why are we pushing buttons?”
“You’re being too hard on yourself,” they say. “That’s just the way things are, the way they’ve always been. We all have dreams about who we will grow up to be when we are young, and then reality settles in. Don’t give up button-pressing. You’re not a quitter. Button-pressing is your life. Button-pressing is who you are. Who are you if not a button-presser? What will you do without handsome pay? How will you survive? What will we do without you? We’re in the bunker together, remember?”
Overwhelmed, Rocky takes a deep breath. It feels good, so he takes another, and another, and another until he’s almost euphoric.
A thought pops into his head. A question, a series of questions. Who am I? Do I suck? What do I want?
And as if from some deep arsenal of knowledge growing from within him, the answers emerge.
Oh Rocky, isn’t it obvious? You know what you want. You want to unleash your creativity, and instead, here you are pressing buttons. You’ve become uninteresting, you’re bored, and you work a job that goes against your gut. You drink too often. You eat too much, and frankly, your beloved handsomeness is decaying.
I’m sorry to tell you, Rocky, that your cohort is united in suffering. They believe they are in a bunker. Because they are in a bunker. Because life is a bunker to them. They point to your weaknesses and call them strengths, and demote your strengths to weaknesses. Don’t you deserve a shot at happiness? You’re in the wrong place.
Handsome pay, brand names, accomplished people. It all sound great, but who is controlling your destiny? This is the checklist for someone else’s vision, the formula for someone else’s success. Don’t you owe it to yourself to define your own framework for success?
Rocky, you are ambitious. You are creative. You went to a notable school. What are you doing sitting here, pressing buttons, numbing your mind and your gut until there is a huge hole in it?
Listen Rocky, no one is immune from making mistakes. No one is immune from career paralysis. No one can define success for you. You must think for yourself. Believe in who you are. Believe in who you want to be. Acknowledge your nature. Your desires. Your abilities. Give your instincts a chance to guide you. Give your abilities a chance to flourish. It’s time to take a risk. It’s time to break free.
The next morning, Rocky is afraid. His stomach still churns, but he decides it’s time to set out on a new journey. He doesn’t care about what accomplished people think. Okay, he does care. In fact, he cares a ton. But what he cares about more is what’s true. He cares about the approach. He cares about defining his own vision, his own strategy, his own path, his own framework for success.
And it turns out that once Rocky believes and invests in himself, so do his friends, and so do accomplished people. They give him a cowboy hat and a set of Moleskin notebooks and send him on his way. But not before throwing him a proper goodbye party.
So let’s all raise our glasses to Rocky, and to life’s most satisfying moments: those moments, when you, the individual, choose a pursuit worthy of your time, and give it everything you have. Not for the fame! Not for the money! Certainly not because someone said so! But because it brings true meaning to your life, AND NOT THE ILLUSION OF MEANING.
Rocky tips his hat and thanks his friends.
By: Tara Makhmali
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