The first week of classes at AC4D brought an anxious excitement to my classmates. For me, it brought an existential crisis. As I began to delve into the AC4D readings and projects by night, by day an internet powerhouse came knocking on my door and began a seductive recruiting dance, wooing me toward a full-time position. For a few days, I put AC4D on the back burner and prepped myself for several rounds of grueling interviews. Somehow I believed that if I could just get this job from “Internet Powerhouse” then it would validate me. I would be able to update my Facebook profile with the name of a company that assured all of my 496 “friends” that I am indeed very happy and successful. I would finally be aligned with an organization that made me feel good enough, smart enough, and successful enough.
The problem, however, was that I knew that with this reassurance would also come a compromise of personal values. Working for “Internet Powerhouse” might have gotten me free lunch, but grandma said it best, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” The cost of my lunch would be the loss of work/life balance and enormous amounts of stress. Worst of all, I would be working for a company whose whole business model stood on tenuous ethical grounds.
After two years of doing good, fulfilling work in Ecuador, I found myself once again succumbing to the lie that money and status = happiness and success. I was ready to make any compromise, drink any Kool-Aid, and jump right in.
I’m hesitant to fault my character or moral drive in this situation. Rather, I believe this dilemma demonstrates just how pervasively the faulty definition of success exists in our culture. In fact, when I first moved to Ecuador to volunteer, it took me a good six months to unlearn how the United States defines success and stop worrying about how I was going to justify the gap in my resume to future employers. Apparently, it’s only taken me six months back in the United States to relearn what success is.
Where does this lie originate? While there are probably multiple answers, I’ll propose two. The first is that America is branded, and indoctrination begins in childhood. When I was a kid, popularity directly correlated with how many swoosh marks appeared on an outfit. Later, it became the type of car owned or the type of cell phone used. Certain brands were perceived as better and smarter. In turn, the consumer, by associating herself with the brand or object, was better and smarter. What better way to permanently brand yourself than by working for a name brand company upon graduation? If one couldn’t secure that, why not work in a high-paying job and comfortably brand oneself with other items that exude happiness and success?
Another, more subtle factor influencing our definition of success and worth is language and particularly, metaphor. In English, the value of individual human beings is mixed up with economics. Donald Miller writes:
“What metaphors do we use when we think of relationships? We value people…we invest in people…relationships can be bankrupt…people are priceless…all economic metaphor. We think of love like a commodity. We use it like money.”
If I want to prove to the world that I’m worth something, what’s the best way to show that? It’s easy – get lots of money. It’s right there in the language that we use every day.
Thankfully, “Internet Powerhouse” did not offer me a job, but the recruitment experience forced me to reevaluate and remember why I came to AC4D in the first place. I came to create a new definition of success, if only for myself.