Sunday, April 14, 2019

How western cultural values set us up for failure

A few months ago the hair salon I'd been visiting for a few years closed. I'd gotten to know a few hairdressers at that location, but when I switched to a local First Choice I was at the behest of a new group of people (ok, mostly women).

I've only visited the First Choice a handful of times so far, but let me tell you, there are some interesting women working at the location on Oxford and Gammage. Not one, but two of them have escaped their country of birth to come to Canada. The first came from Poland when it was under Soviet control, and the second came from a war torn Kosovo.

I won't spend too much time on emigration, but what amazed me about these women was that they had come to Canada and started a family from practically nothing. They were hard-working, likely didn't have much money, but were making a life anyway.

After meeting them I couldn't help but take a look at myself.

Truth be told, I've had a fear of failure since finishing up at school. No matter what I do or how well things are going there's a persistent voice in my head that tells me not to screw up. I've had the notion that anything but financial success was something I couldn't accept.

Then I got my haircut, and found out my hairdresser and her husband who drives for Uber are raising three kids.

And that's when it dawned on me - it's not the worry of money problems that really bothers me, it's the crushing expectations that come from growing up in the middle class, being of Western European descent, and a natural Canadian citizen.

Growing up my parents weren't wealthy, but made good salaries and retired with cozy pensions. I made it through post-secondary without much debt, and have had a number of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. All things considered I've lived a charmed life. 

People like me grew up in a culture where wealth was the primary indicator of someone's worth - where social status, trips, cars, homes are what signal your success to others. A culture that fetishized the rich, obsessed over productivity, and tirelessly thought about how to make more money. All at the expense of things that really matter - family, relationships, character, ethics.

But then, there's my hairdresser who came from a country torn apart by war and raised three children. Who may not have a glamorous retirement filled with travel, but she has a family. She may have problems, but she survives.

Thinking about the life my hairdresser leads I can't help but think that the real source of our misery isn't the usual ebb and flow of our lives, but instead the crushing expectations that come from the Western notion of success.