Meritocracy does not exist

A friend in her late 20s today tweeted something along these lines, “A friend from school is on the way to having her third kid. While I get the idea that success comes in different forms for everyone and everyone moves at their own pace, I admit I do feel a bit left out. How does success feel to you?” As someone nearing my late 30’s, to me she’s terribly young and with a doctoral in volcanology to boot at such an age, she’s the living embodiment of success in her own rights!

But I do admit that it got me thinking, how does success feel or look to me? As I indulged in my bad habit of Instagram scrolling before bed (I should stop soon, I know, help me), I often came across many interpretations of success, be it in the captions or some typographic images — which, when I thought of it, were largely posted by female-identified individuals. One of the posts mentioned, “Success is when you feel the happiest.” This idea is tempting, to be honest, but it is still highly individualistic. Just like the notion of self-care, I feel it is important to integrate our idea of success into the community and the collective, bearing in mind that what forms our narrative of success, is probably putting a hindrance in others’ way of reaching theirs. And maybe what triggers my super successful friend’s worried tweet about always having to relate the idea of success to marriage and kids — though, if it all comes to her choice, it’s all fine — is the prevalence of perception that women are often seen as incompetent at work (see Dipboye, 1985; Heilman, 1983, 1995; Heilman, Martell, & Simon, 1988; Swim, Borgida, Maruyama, & Myers, 1989), leading to further discrimination (see Cejka & Eagly, 1999; Heilman, 1995, 2001; Nieva & Gutek, 1980; Tosi & Einbinder, 1985) until we succumb to more domestic roles.

It’s very easy to simplify the idea of chasing success through this three-step formula, putting aside the socioeconomic hegemonies that might require some to work four times harder than their privileged counterparts.

I don’t have the answer to my definition of success now, but what I did notice is that I am the happiest when I learned something and I get to help others with that knowledge. I think about Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s words often: “We open doors so others can walk through them.

I am also going to write a quick note to this friend that I am very proud of her and that if anything, she does not have to worry about this whole idea of success —an advice of my own of which I must also heed.

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