Landisa: What my editor taught me about being successful

2020-01-10 13:38
James de Villiers.

James de Villiers.

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When I was 13, I dreamt of being a pastor.

Like the great Angus Buchan, I dreamt of standing on great stages in desert plains and telling nations to cry out to God for mercy.

At 15, when I started writing for a national Afrikaans newspaper, I dreamt of writing columns for a living. And at 16, when I wanted to be a journalist, I dreamt of a world knowing my name because I uncovered injustice. 

And so I spent most of my high school career creating illusions of what my life would be when I grow up and escape the captivity of small-town rural Ceres in the Western Cape: ultimately, dreams of having my name known when I grow old. 

But, as time passed, my life turned out differently to what I had imagined. Instead of my name lit up on billboards, I saw my credit card debt pile up and feeling stuck in the job I once thought only temporary. 

No matter how hard I tried and how many hours I worked, my reality never came close to the dreams I imagined. 

Two years ago, my editor - the guy who gave me an internship when I was failing subjects at university - said he avoided people who chases fame.

In his home, seated on a couch alongside four other millennials about to watch Survivor South Africa, this man, who's career path I thought I had to mimic, said fame was a consequence - not an aim - of following your passion.

"Fame is a result of doing what you love, it should never be the other way around," the man, who won awards I haven’t even heard about, said. 

And I left his home with a sigh of relief, allowing myself to have the grace to breathe: for a moment disregarding worldly ideals of what it means to be successful.  

But, two years later, moving to Johannesburg - South Africa's financial capital - I felt ambition breathing heavily down my neck.

It pushed me, instead of pulling me, to ask for promotions and beg for money. As I walked in a Sandton mall, seeing the nice bags and expensive clothes, passion no longer played a role.

Money and fame: the ultimate goal? 

And slowly, alongside every single millennial, anxiety embraced me like Satan having compassion over a lost soul. I scrolled endlessly on Instagram and saw lives who always looked like they had it all.

I spoke to people I thought successful and they told me the key to success is demanding it all: work until you claim your space on the pedestal. 

But - and I write this in bold - fame and money will never give you the happiness you seek to obtain. I learnt this the hard way. To quote the great King David and the great Buddha, Siddhattha Gotama:  humans always want more. 

After spending years comparing my life to those of others, staring at Instagram six-packs or Twitter achievements, I have intimate knowledge about the anxiety seeking success induces. 

I’ve woken up too many days paralysed by inferiority - believing I am nowhere close to worthy. I spent too much time devising grand plans of how I’d spend my life achieving success - an ultimate aim with ever-changing goal posts. 

Success can never be attained, I now know. It will always chase you like a raging bull down the streets of Pamplona in Spain; a lifetime spent on a hamster wheel from something you've created yourself, to fear.

My aunt Annetjie -  from a little-known, small rural South African town remains the ideal of what I deem a successful life: a woman at the age of 90 not known by most of this world, but who washed the bodies of the elderly after cancer robbed them of their physical ability to function properly.

The world doesn't scream her name, but to a few she was their saviour. 

Someone who defined their lives according to their own ideals, not the world's.

And so today, writing this from her home where she lived as a widow alone for more than 20 years, I give up on my goal of worldly fame and gold. 

Because, I’d rather die being an unknown, but knowing I have left a positive impact, however small, than having gained acclaim but not having made a difference at all.

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Read more on:    success  |  successful  |  editor  |  landisa

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