Saturday 15 September 2012

The Art Of Underachievement

When I look back on my life, I do so with a sense of satisfaction, a touch of sadness, a lot of euphoria and smidgeon of pride. I have achieved enough to keep me happy and one thing is certain: I have not sold my soul.

I am comfortable and the balance in my life is not that far from perfect; it could be better but it could also be far, far worse.

Yet there are certain people in the world who might look at my life and call me a failure – or at least an underachiever.

Such people rule the world; such people sacrifice everything to climb the corporate and social ladder. They have one goal in mind – to be the best – or even the best of the best – or, absurdly, the best of the best of the best – you catch my drift I’m sure.

Such people look down on me because, in their eyes, I have the potential to move on in life. They probably look down on you too, dear reader.

I have a problem with this philosophy and there are good reasons why.Let’s take one of these rulers, these overachievers and give him a name: Mr Motivation.

Mr Motivation is driven, so driven in fact that he is blinkered. His focus is his career or his determination to climb the corporate ladder, or to achieve absolute greatness in whatever field he has targeted and he will do anything to get there.

While his ambitions may be admirable, the cost of achieving those ambitions is too high for somebody like me.

I will illustrate what I mean with a conversation between me, as an underachiever, and Mr Motivation as an overachiever.

Mr Motivation: What have you achieved in life?

Plastic Mancunian: I have a job, I have a lovely lady, two kids, a car a house, three cats and I get to travel, write a blog and relax as and when the need or the desire arises. I’ve achieved enough.

Mr Motivation: Sounds dull. How much do you earn?

Plastic Mancunian: Enough to keep me happy and pay the bills.

Mr Motivation: Well, looking at your car and your house – and the area where you live, you just seem ordinary to me.

Plastic Mancunian: That’s what I am – an ordinary bloke.

Mr Motivation: How boring. You could be so much more. You have a degree and you are obviously intelligent. Why are you not running your company? How can you be happy with your life as it is?

Plastic Mancunian: I prefer a decent work/life balance. I go to work; I do my job; I come home; I do the things I want to do.

Mr Motivation: Pointless. You should strive to be the best. That’s the kind of drivel I hear from underachievers everywhere. Let me tell you what I have achieved in the last ten years. I am the managing director of a multimillion pound company. Last week alone I secured the biggest deal in the history of my niche. I drive a Bentley, own two Porsches and a seven bedroomed house in the Cheshire countryside. I climbed to the top in record time. I work my fingers to the bone. I don’t just “do my job”; I excel at my job. I go above and beyond the call of duty every single day of the week. I work as many hours as I can to achieve what I want – and it doesn’t stop there. I want to move on and earn millions.

Plastic Mancunian: Nobody cares.

Mr Motivation: Excuse me?

Plastic Mancunian: Nobody cares. Of all the billions of people who live on this planet, how many people do you think give a damn about your promotions, your cars, your house or the fact that you secured a multimillion pound deal?

Mr Motivation: Aren’t you impressed?

Plastic Mancunian: Not really. And let me tell you this – neither is anybody else. Your friends may congratulate you but really only those closest to you will care. Joe Bloggs in the street won’t give two hoots. So – you’ve bought a new Ferrari. Big deal. I’d like to drive one, and I’d be happy to be a passenger if you offered to drive me around – but impressed? Nah!!

Mr Motivation: That’s so sad.

Plastic Mancunian: Why?

Mr Motivation: It just shows that you have no goals to better yourself.

Plastic Mancunian: Do you believe that you are better than me because you have material goods? Because you have sacrificed so much time to get where you are? My soul is intact – is yours?

Mr Motivation: What do you mean?

Plastic Mancunian: Well I can’t help but notice that you are carrying a Blackberry that has been chirruping constantly during our conversation.

Mr Motivation: That’s because I am important. I am constantly on call and need to be able to react to get things done – to make more money – to be the best.

Plastic Mancunian: But it’s Saturday afternoon. How many hours work do you do on average?

Mr Motivation: I work 60 sometimes 70 hours a week. You have to do that if you want to be the best.

Plastic Mancunian: Okay – but that phone is still chirruping – so you probably work longer.

Mr Motivation: I reap the rewards. You can see where I am.

Plastic Mancunian: Well I think you’ve sacrificed your soul to be the best. The problem is that aiming “to be the best” while admirable, is not always achievable and it comes at a cost – you are blinkered and don’t see life outside your tunnel vision. Tell me, when was the last time you had a decent holiday? Or spent quality time with your wife and kids? When was the last time you relaxed?

Mr Motivation: You’re just lazy. I am hard working and that’s why I am where I am and you will remain stuck in a rut.

Plastic Mancunian: I’m happy in my rut. I have ambitions but not materialistic ambitions. I want to be happy and I know what I need to do to make me happy. The difference between you and I is that I haven’t sold my soul to achieve it. I realise my own limitations. And I don’t want to be unhealthy because of it.

Mr Motivation: Unhealthy?

Plastic Mancunian: Yes – stressed. Don’t tell me you aren’t stressed.

Mr Motivation: Absolutely not. Nevertheless, my goals demand constant attention and until I achieve them, I am on edge. I work best when on edge.

Plastic Mancunian: You’re stressed then. Tell me something else: can I be the best?

Mr Motivation: Yes – everybody can be the best.

Plastic Mancunian: That’s not true though is it? How can everybody be the best? Surely only those people who are the best can be the best. How can everybody, say, in the UK “be the best”?

Mr Motivation: Now you’re just being facetious.

Plastic Mancunian: But I’m not though. If you go for a promotion with two colleagues and you all work your bollocks off – and you achieve that promotion and that seven figure salary – what have you achieved? Sure – your family might be happy at more money – but the two guys who failed will not be the best, will they? They will have failed. And you will have worked stupid hours, sacrificing your life and another chunk of your soul, just to say that you are the best – until the time you fail. Is the money really worth it if you can’t enjoy it? Will the seven figure salary really make your life easier if it means that you now get 200 emails more a day, have to work every weekend for the next six years, only get a week or two off and have to take your laptop with you if you go on holiday? That lifestyle is not for me. I’m happy with my own balanced, stress free life.

Mr Motivation: You’re an underachiever.

Plastic Mancunian: If that's what you think then I'm proud of it.


Elephant's Child said...

And so say all of us. My middle brother has aspirations like that. There was a time when each year, at the busiest time of year, his wife would bring him in a change of clothes each day so he could stay at work 24/7. He was less than happy that his siblings were far from impressed at his 'importance'. These days he goes overseas a few times each year being 'important'. And his siblings are still not impressed. He thinks we are wrong. We are fairly certain he is.

River said...

I'm equally happy with my own balanced, stress free life.
Mr Motivation and his partner Ms. Motivation can take their 24/7 jobs and wander off into the sunset.
No, wait, wandering off into the sunset is only for us underacheivers. "They" don't have time to enjoy wandering off anywhere.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi EC,

Yes - he is wrong. I work with people like that and have encountered quite a few on my travels.

I have asked them "What's the point?" and our conversation has been pretty much like the post.




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi River,

That's absolutely correct. When you ask somebody to go out for a meal or the pub and they say "No time - I'm working" - you know something is wrong.




drb said...

hhmmm Mr PM,
Sometime I do wish I work a bit harder, 70 hours instead of 50 hours a week so that I will win the Nobel prize. I have lazy bones and usually work the minimum to get by and I get distracted too easily as well. My excuse has been to have a life outside work, but deep down I know I could have played less computer games, watch less junk reality TV and get more work done. I always felt depressed after some workshop on how to be a successful scientists and these prominent scientists just put me to shame. One did not have a summer holiday (translate X'mas holiday) for last 30 years. Another worked 15 hours a day, spent 3 hours with the kids and 4 hours sleeping!!! Please note that all these do not translate into 7 figures salary, fancy cars or mansions. Last X'mas was the only X'mas I didn't do any work since I embarked on this career and now I am paying for it - may not have a job te year after.
I do love my job, it is my passion and hobby. Quoting Rob,"You guys are a bunch of
masochists." He can't do our job.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi drb,

I think there's a slight difference between the people I am talking about and those who genuinely enjoy their work.

Mr Motivation is favours materialistic gain over everything and works hard to achieve that, to the exclusion of everything else. And then tells people like me that I amount to nothing because my outlook on life is different from his.

Don't get me wrong - when I have to, I will work hard (trips abroad usually involve at least 10 hours a day - but have time limits - so I am prepared to work that bit harder to get the job done). But these people expect you to do the same as them and can't understand why you don't - usually to further their own career rather than ours.

If you genuinely enjoy your work then to me that is absolutely fine. But even if that were the case for me, I wouldn't pursue it to the exclusion of everything else.

Life's too short - and, as I said, very few people will be impressed.




Jackie K said...

Spot on PM - I am bookmarking this post to come back to again and again. It is ridiculous, all the stress on achievement and motivation these days. There is never ANY talk of those who strive and fail - and of course there are many, and how are they left feeling? Like their lives are not worth anything? Utter rot.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Jackie,

Exactly - not everyone can win - or be the best.




Anji said...

I agree with you Mr PM. I'm running my own business from home - not making much money, but doing something I'm really interested in.

I've never been able to understand those people who have big houses, flashy cars etc and are too busy working to enjoy them. I wonder how many people never have time to take a swim in that pool they had put into their garden.

P.S.Our president discribes himself as an ordinary bloke too.

drb said...

Is it better to be those who strived and failed or not strived at all?


Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Anji,

I would love to have my own business doing something I love. You are lucky.




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi drb,

You should strive to be happy whatever you do.




Dale Brown said...

There are times when I think "I wish I had more money or was higher up the food chain at work"
But then I imagine how much extra grief I'd have to endure to get those things and think "Bollocks to that."

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Big D,

Yup - couldn't agree more.