The Pressure to Succeed
A TV commercial urges Nigerians to “Be successful. Be important” by using a certain brand of toothpaste. While we all know that toothpaste could hardly hold the key to a person’s becoming important, the advertisers are showing they recognize that people want to be identified with things that carry the tag of “success.”
The desire to succeed and to be recognized by others is a natural one. Nevertheless, both men and women often place such emphasis on human achievement that they put themselves under pressure to “keep up with the Joneses.” Could this be dangerous? Could it affect you?
The Pressures People Face
Personal ambition to be rich can exert pressure. Many people want to be able to make a “showy display of [their] means of life,” to have social prestige and prominence.—1 John 2:16.
The family may exert pressure. In many homes the husband must continually strive to improve his earnings and his standing at his workplace in order to boost the family’s social standing. Or the wife may strive to be a successful career woman. Children can be pushed toward unreasonably high academic performance at school. This is particularly a problem in developing nations where many believe that the key to a person’s bettering his lot is higher education.
The community too may exert pressure on a person to aim for higher education, wealth, and positions of prestige and influence. Success, which is usually measured in terms of money, may lead to prominence, praise, and respect. A Nigerian Daily Times editorial said: “No matter how virtuous and impressive one’s qualities are, most [people] do not respect and recognise him, if he has no money.”
What Can Result?
Such worldly success can bring some enjoyment, but consider the high price it also exacts. Newspaper columnist Achike Okafo wrote: “Settled families . . . are daily breaking down, largely because of money and what money can buy. . . . Even the spouses who still manage to hold together hardly talk in terms of their parental obligations . . . because they are all too busy in the pursuit of the material requisites of well-being.” Add to this the problem of neglected children turning to drugs and crime or running away from home, and the price becomes very high.
The pressure to succeed has pushed some ambitious people into dishonesty and immorality. Young women have even traded sexual favors for good exam results and employment. Even when success is achieved honorably, prosperous persons may face the resentment or envy of less successful ones as well as the hypocrisy of “friends” who are attracted by wealth and prestige. (Ecclesiastes 5:11) Is this really success?
The wise writer of Ecclesiastes in the Bible answers no. After surveying his great wealth, power, and prestige, as well as the enjoyment these brought, he concluded that these were “vanity and a striving after wind.”—Ecclesiastes 2:3-11.
Does this mean that every pursuit in life is futile? Or is there a proper balance that people can have while building a productive career? What does experience show will likely prove to be their most worthwhile goal?