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The Unbearable Weight of Success Paranoia   

2013-04-26 00:19:06|  分类: English |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Oklahoma has four distinct seasons, but, unlike many places, our four seasons can all come in one day. It is possible for us to have a chilly morning, a hot noon, cozy afternoon and an evening with storms capable of producing tornados. 

Having lived here for five years, I have grown accustomed to the caprice of elements, but what are the plants and animals supposed to think? I bet frogs are posting, on the walls of whatever social media sites frogs use, that ground hogs, who are supposed to predict the arrival of spring, are actually lousy weathermen. Flowers in my yard often start to bud in spring on a warm day, but freeze and wither that very night before reaching their complete magnificence.

This year has been rather congenial, as we have quite a number of consistently warm days, which allowed flowers to come to full blossom. However, I had been living in uneasy anticipation, like a tenant waiting for the thud of the second shoe after the first one, dropped on the floor in the middle of the night, has woken him up. Sure enough, we soon have tornado and hail weather, followed by an ice storm. The storm turned trees, shrubs and lawns into a stunning crystal landscape you would expect only from a fairy tale, but it also creates so much weight that caused limbs of huge trees to break under its own weight.

I passed my neighborhood with many fallen trees or tree branches, came back home and turned on my computer. I happened to find a few readers commented on my blog about pressure of living in some of China’s biggest cities. One of my readers complained that her classmate, a PhD graduate from Qinghua University, a top university in China, is struggling with financial difficulties, as the housing price in Beijing is prohibitive and the cost for raising a child also very high in such big cities. I am sympathetic with him and his family for their predicament, but I also think of big trees that have been broken in the recent ice storm under its own weight. Sometimes overwhelming stress results from wanting too much that we cannot actually afford to have, in other words, having ambitions that our abilities cannot support. Under stress, many tend to blame the ills of the “macro environment”, though in the same environment some have made choices that allow them to prosper. I have strong feelings about this issue as I have seen so many Chinese parents around me try hard to send children to Ivy League universities. Parents in China too, push children a little too hard for them to achieve success as defined by those around them. Children of average talents may thus experience burnout too early and too soon.

Adults too, may make similar bad choices without having imagined the life ahead. I have seen people not interested in academic life at all push themselves to get doctoral degrees simply for the glory of it, which would be fine, if they would at a future date own the consequences and sacrifices instead of constantly complain about it as if they have been forced into such situations. I also noticed that young college graduate students sometimes cannot think of working anywhere other than Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou. Without the potentials to support their ambitions, they fall down in a storm life may bring.

I have to admit that most of us Chinese have some paranoia with success. It can be a positive mentality, except that we should constantly re-calibrate our definition of success at different stages of life. While it is important to be the best we can possibly be every step of the way, one should also identify and develop a niche where it is possible to lead a healthy and productive life with some room for a break. Some pursue success in territories where the crowd is going, in total disregard of their own capacity to compete in such territories, or even their personal calling, which they fail to examine in the first place. We may not benefit much from wisdom of the crowd, for instance, that the biggest cities present most opportunities, which is largely true when viewed without a personal context, but such assumptions may not help us much. It is noteworthy that we, with all our human limitation, are capable of grasping one or a few opportunities at a time. Not all opportunities have equal potential for us to use. It is sometimes equally, if not more, effective for us to succeed to be a big fish in a smaller pond, where the pressure is lower, and joy of living greater. A life without some room for leisure is a nightmare unfolding in slow motion.

Allow me to continue my analogy with the trees in an ice storm. Before coming home, I had feared that the medium-height redbud in my front yard would not survive the storm, as the wood is rather brittle. The branches may easily succumb to the pressure. Fortunately, I found it did not break, largely because the leaves have not come out yet to gather all the rain and ice. It is taking its time to grow. Trees may not have been calculating its moves as I described, but I hope we humans get the message.

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