Back To Career News

Reinventing the Idea of Success to Get Unstuck in Your Career


What happens when your career dreams are crushed by failures? We take a look at Alain de Botton’s TED Talk, which explains how changing your idea of success can help you get unstuck in your life and career.

ted talks

(Photo Credit:

We all face the challenges of building successful careers, because that’s what we’ve been told makes for a happy life. But is this true? In Alain de Botton’s TED Talk presentation, he sheds light on the harsh realities that come with “being successful” in today’s day and age, and offers a healthier and kinder approach to accepting your shortcomings and making “success” work for you. 

Do You Know What You're Worth?

As Botton points out in his talk, it’s easier now than ever to make a good living with a bit of know-how and persistence, but it is also increasingly more frightening to go after your dreams, because of how we, as a society, have come to view success and failure. If you think of how ruthless the media is at highlighting the failures of countless politicians and celebrities, then you get an idea of where the public’s crippling fear of failure comes from. We live in a society that has succumbed to gossip, drama, and superficiality, and this has created a false perception of what success and happiness is all about.

People are all judged (to some degree) on their ranking in the social hierarchy, as Bottom points out, and those judgments directly correlate to how much time, respect, and love others reciprocate. However, if you want to keep career anxiety at bay, then consider the following five tips:

1. Stop feeding the snobs. “We are all surrounded by snobs,” says Botton in his presentation, and “the dominant kind of snobbery that exists nowadays is job snobbery.” When you’re at a networking event or around strangers, what’s one of the first things to come out of someone’s mouth? “What do you do for a living?” Immediately, there is a sense of fear that your profession or accomplishments aren’t going to be good enough to impress this unknown person. Take ownership of your failures and successes and stop worrying about what others (“snobs”) will think of you, because then you become just like them.

2. Stop envying others. The hopes you have for your career can be absolutely destroyed by envy, because you will find yourself in a constant competition of trying to “one-up” everyone else, and you will lose sight of what matters to you, and you alone. The root of envy stems from the act of comparing yourself to others, causing you to equate your aspirations to the accomplishments of others. Take a word from the wise Theordore Roosevelt and remember that “comparison is the thief of joy,” so don’t waste your time robbing yourself of what you truly deserve.

3. Don’t take things too personally. Why is it that out of a million successes, one failure can discount them all? When you take things personally, you lose sight of the lesson to be learned amidst the loss. So, what may feel like the end of your career, could simply be a blessing in disguise that is meant to make you stronger, wiser, and more prepared for greater opportunities.

4. Don’t judge others. You know how the Golden Rule goes: “Treat others as you wish to be treated.” Hold your tongue when it comes to passing judgment on others, because you’re only projecting your idea of right and wrong onto them, and that is completely subjective. When you pass judgment on others, you’re really only acting out of insecurities and/or envy, and that’s why we leave pettiness back in high school.

5. Sympathize, don’t criticize. Instead of criticizing others and yourself for failing, try to sympathize instead. Take a lesson from the ancient Greece art form of “tragic art,” where artists told stories of how people who failed in their lives were awarded sympathy in return. Adopt a gentler, more forgiving response to failure in yourself and others.

With this new perspective, go redefine what your dreams and aspirations are so that you can begin your journey to success.

You can watch Alain de Botton’s full TED Talks presentation here.

Tell Us What You Think

How do you stay focused on your career goals and keep fear out of the equation? Share your story on Twitter or in the comments section below.

Leah Arnold-Smeets
Read more from Leah

Leave a Reply

Notify of
What Am I Worth?

What your skills are worth in the job market is constantly changing.