From the Archives: The Best Years of Our Lives

2 October 2011

From the moment I began to understand the concept of tradeoffs – trading happiness today for happiness tomorrow via doing my math homework today for the sole purpose of it somehow making my future prospects look brighter – I knew I didn’t really like it. There was something strange about a concept that attempts to paint life as something of a zero-sum game.

The idea that you gotta lose some to win some. From the moment I stepped foot into university like every other fresh-faced kid full with the promise of youth, little did I know that I had taken the first step into a life of never-ending compromises.

The promise of youth is one of these ingenious creations of modern society that is dangled above our heads as we walk through our respective journeys in life. It’s hung low enough to lure us into a false belief that we can attain it, but just high enough to keep us reaching out and blindly wanting to grasp hold of it.

It works well for a society that wants to create a generation of driven young people, thirsty for the rewards of their hard work. They want money, they want power. They want status, and they want to look their weight in gold. They want to drive their BMW into work at the 70th floor of a city high rise, an iPhone with 323 unread emails in one hand and the other hanging awkwardly by their side – naked without a glass of expensive champagne to cling onto and gesture with to their equally well-suited corporate clients and colleagues –  and tell themselves every morning when they look at their reflection behind the elevator doors that they’ve made it.

That this is it.

But wait! There’s more.

Corporations are experts at hanging that carrot in front of you just out of reach so that your ambition to climb never stops. You put in more hours, you forget to eat. You don’t remember the last time you truly enjoyed the sunshine outside and you haven’t spoken to your family in months. There might come a point where you’ll even undermine your own colleagues (read: ‘frienemies’) to bill those extra hours that put you on the leaderboard.

You are a profit-generating machine, and you have offers coming from you at all angles. You are living the corporate dream.

But are you happy?

Surely you are, you tell yourself – because you are part of that niche 5% of people who made it to this world, and in doing so you stuck your head above the other 95% of the population under you that made your top 5% possible. You wear better shoes, you drive better cars. You eat at better restaurants – heck, you even smell better.

And so the cycle continues until one day, you finally get a taste of that carrot. You’re disappointed because it tastes pretty terrible, and you’ve given up so much of your life and who you are – your passions, your family, your friends – just to chase something you didn’t even want in the first place.

You’ll wake up some 20 or 30 years down the track and think – shit, you haven’t really made it anywhere.

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