We are often presented with a particular image of success, based on status and wealth. The successful men are the Jordan Belforts of the world, we’re told - swimming in money, prestige, and £3000 suits, all before they hit 30 -- but is that really success?
These men drive the most gorgeous and expensive cars, when they aren’t being taxied around by their chauffeur, and they’ve got their Wall Street style know-how down to an art form. I mean, even the film The Pursuit of Happiness ended with Will Smith’s character becoming a stockbroker.
The pursuit of this type of goal is a common theme in popular culture, but is ultimately a narrow and misleading conception of happiness and success. I think anyone striving after this and this alone, excepting it to bring happiness to their lives, will be greatly disillusioned. Seeing where I am at 30 and where I thought I would be, at least I thought I could take comfort in thinking that what it means to be a man in the 21st century, and a successful one at that, has changed drastically from the late 80’s and early 90’s.
But a little while ago I started to wonder whether this was also kind of a narrow way of looking at things. I mean, take for example one of the archetypal outward symbols of masculine success – the luxury watch. I read an article A Wall Street Guide to Watches the other day which boldly proclaimed that a Tag Heuer, for example, was something you get for your 18th birthday, but not fit to wear to the workplace.
But what about if owning a watch like that was also a choice grounded in the passion and function it serves for you? For example, you could dig up a vintage watch online, which would better reflect who you really are. In other words, sure it’s a luxury, but it’s also a far cry from serving merely as a vacuous status symbol. It’s for you, no one else - a material possession that isn’t just something on which you base your sense of self-achievement and success in order project that image to others.
I guess the problem is, where do you draw the line? How do you know if you’re just treating yourself, or falling into the trap of defining yourself as a man by the prestige of your possessions?
The problem with the perpetuation of the materialistically based image of the “successful man” is that the majority of us who do not fit this image then end up feeling less – less of a man, less successful, in general just less. This poses a problem to a healthy idea of masculinity, as well as to a productive concept of financial security and career success. I may not be where I thought that I would be at 30, but that doesn’t mean that I am not successful and at exactly the point in my career where I should be. Success is all a matter of perspective, and likewise the happiness that goes along with it.
I think the “established, successful 30 year old man” is a remnant of the “sole provider” days. However, this married with kids, sole provider for the family male role has changed drastically over the few decades, not to mention education, the work force, and the age we are when entering the workforce. All of these factors seem to add up to the fact that most of us – whether male or female – are still works in progress at 30. We are still building our careers, some still paying off our student loans, and most of us are still in a renting phase of life over paying into a mortgage. Does this mean that we are not thriving at 30? Not at all.
I think in our present reality, the very best thing that we can accept about ourselves, our personal lives, and our careers, is that at 30, we are still figuring it all out. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and being open to change and new possibilities is our biggest weapon to help us walk down that career path towards our individual visions of success, whatever they may be. Embrace your thirties as the opportunistic time that they are to still figure out who you are, what you want, and where you want to go. Then, once you’ve worked all that out, maybe treat yourself to that watch.
By Phillip McCracken