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Borrowed Success

Vinu Chaitanya

Recently, talking to a few young designers, I was struck by the similarity in their ambitions and ideas of success. The companies they wanted to work in, the money they wanted to make and the kind of lives they wanted to lead were surprisingly similar. Success is now equated with affluence. This seems to be true for most young professionals beyond design as well. But for now I will stick to talking about design.

Despite the great diversity seen in humanity our idea of success seems rather limited. We consider our tastes and choices to be fairly unique. We justify the need for the vast amounts of choice in every product that we consume with this very reason. In fact we pride ourselves on these unlimited choices around us, as they are a reflection of the desire to be seen as individuals with thoughts, ideas and tastes that differ from others. So, why is our idea of success so uniform and myopic?

This is even more perplexing in a field like design where individuality is held in great regard. Yet, one can’t help but notice this trend of uniformity. This makes me wonder if what we believe to be our dreams are truly our own. I suspect that peer pressure has started to alter our ideas of personal success even without our conscious knowledge.

The landscape in which we exist has changed dramatically. With the Internet and social networks becoming a part of almost everyone’s daily life there is a relentless broadcast of information. This information then spreads literally at the speed of light. Everyone is constantly aware of what is considered ‘cool’ by their circle of friends, acquaintances and co-workers. The number of ‘likes’ on Facebook, Dribbble, Behance and other platforms has started to define our self-worth. Things that spread and get popular in turn spawn numerous attempts to replicate that success by doing the same thing or something very similar. All this leads to a common accepted and understood idea of ‘success’ even if it’s not articulated explicitly anywhere.

This brings me to another observation—not everyone who has achieved this version of success seems to be happy with it. Smart designers with skills eventually manage to gain recognition, work at large organizations and earn a lot more than designer earlier did. Yet, satisfaction, happiness, peace and joy that should accompany such an achievement elude them. This I think is partly due to the fact that what they achieved was never their true calling in the first place. Prior to the Internet age, gauging the mood of a community was much harder. What was easier was to form your own ideas of worthy causes to pursue, identify individuals who had done and then emulate them or figure out your own path. Either way it was a personal journey.

The modern young designer on the other hand has to fight a tsunami sized wave of information each day of what the ‘community’ thinks and then in that noise try to find his or her own voice without getting carried away. We have moved from being isolated individuals who are in touch with their inner thoughts to being constantly connected individuals who act according to the collective thought of the community. It’s natural that in such an environment the idea of success is also less personal. It now is an attempt to be accepted as a notable part of the community.

To be fair there are undeniable benefits of being a part of a community. But I think we might have a lot to gain dreaming without the burden of pressures and expectations of the world outside. Then perhaps, we many find true success—success that fills us with a sense of satisfaction. For now most of us seem to be chasing someone else’s dreams.