TED Conversations

Singer Songwriter & Vocal Coach, Lizanne Hennessey - Voice Coach


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What is success to you?

When you were asked as a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up, were you able to give a straight answer? Are you now that thing you wanted to be hen you were 8, or 11, or 21?

Do you agree that it is 'common sense' to choose a study that will guarantee you a job? Why? Because society dictates that we need to be "successful". I believe that success we are all trying to reach simply does not exist.

Who's to say that what you study is what you're going to be? What if your deepest desire is to be a musician? You study and you make the hours and you practice ad you work your ass off to be good at what you want to be good at, but what if you never reach that point of success you think you have to achieve? Does that mean you should give up?

Every set-back we experience in trying to reach that imaginary level of success, makes us feel annoyed, irritated, depressed, frustrated, and in some cases even suicidal. Why?

It is in our nature to always want more. Physically, spiritually, financially, materialistically… We are pushing ourselves to the extreme and don't seem to appreciate what we have achieved along the way, since the goal to reach that success is the only thing that matters.

So, Why are we so fundamentally unsatisfied?
We are trying to reach a goal that we did not set ourselves - it is set by society, by the media, by commercialism. We compare ourselves to each other, which is also a fundamentally human trait.

What makes us who we are, and how do we determine a level of success that is valuable to us as individuals?


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    Apr 26 2013: Success is a dangerous word. It keeps us in fear of its opposite: failure. If I had my life to live over (I'm in my mid-60s) and had a wish it would have been that someone older than me had told me the value of failing. Over and over. Everyone wanted me to be successful, and I was taught "if you can't do something right, then don't do it at all." The message I got was 'don't reach out and try if you're going to fail to do it right.' What a poisonous saying. When I bump into discouraged young folks who are down because they have failed and who are discouraged at their inability to do what they had set out to do, I tell them to be gloriously happy -- because learning to fail is critical to success in life. And I tell them a (true) story: I met a 50-something accountant for a large oil company... well, actually a former accountant. He's gone to a good university and successfully obtained an accounting degree. He had successfully gotten an advanced degree. He had successfully gotten a good job and had had career success. He'd married a great wife, bought an expensive house, and drove nice cars.... And then he was replaced by two kids right out of college who -- together -- cost his firm less than he did. He lost the wife (divorce). He lost the cars. He lost the house (again, the divorce). When I met him he was in a deep depression, lost, living in a one-bedroom apartment. His successful life hadn't prepared him for failure. I realized my checkered past including career changes, being fired, being laid off, failing at supposedly 'simple' jobs (e.g. short order cook) and so on had left me with strengths he lacked. It wasn't that I was smarter or better or anything else redounding to my credit. On the contrary! NO! Failing had prepared me to pick up my marbles and move on, never giving up. He was 50+ and he was lost. I wasn't. His enemy wasn't something he was at fault for. It was something he had experienced: too much success.
    • May 4 2013: Hi Thomas,
      first of all, my apologies for not replying sooner! I am pretty new to TED, and am still getting the hang of navigating around!

      I agree, there is so much value in failure. Like that cliché we learned as kids, 'People make mistakes, that's why there are erasers on the ends of pencils'.

      Your story reminded of a story my friend told me, whose background was similar to yours. She was also taught to not strive to better herself, because she would most likely fail. Like you, she defied her parents' advice and went for it. Right now, she followed her dream and has achieved the highest possible level of education to help her become a respected expert in pedagogy.

      I think it's in our nature to want to protect our children from pain, misery, suffering. By denying them the opportunity to fail, we are denying them the opportunity to feel successful!

      Thank you so much for sharing this personal and insightful view.

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