Years ago, I read Neil Simon's autobiography. Many of you are aware that Neil Simon is one of the most successful playwrights of all time, and probably the most successful playwright in American history. He has had numerous hit plays, four of which ran simultaneously on Broadway. His plays have been adapted into movies and a hit tv show. He also won numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize, the most prestigious prize that can be awarded an American playwright. Thus far, his success has been unmatched by any contemporary playwright. Yet he revealed towards the close of his autobiography that even at the height of his success, he felt, in his words, like he "never arrived." And he also noted, with the ever swift change of styles and tastes, his phenomenal success and decades-long career was startlingly short-lived. Broadway is a completely different place now. And for the past twenty years, Neil Simon has actually had a hard time getting new work produced.
At the time I read his autobiography, I was fully immersed in my playwriting, so this revelation made a huge impression on me. Up until then, I was a very hard worker who didn't spend much time examining why I was one. I just worked hard on the assumption that that was what you had to do in order to "arrive". And arriving held the promise of something - something along the lines of happiness and fulfillment. Neil Simon's revelation made me realize the "Promised Land" of our culture - the happiness and security that is implied in individual achievement and personal success - is in reality a mirage in the desert.
While most people intuitively realize this is true (the unhappiness, problems, and troubled lives of many celebrities is proof of this), the relentless pursuit of this mirage continues to dominate in our culture. There is a prevailing belief that you can't be fulfilled or happy unless you are a "success" or achieve this "American Dream". This belief is so ingrained in our culture and so strongly implied in education that we feel this belief to be truth or reality, when in fact, it is a lie and an illusion.
(Julian Moody and I touched on this subject along with the shortcomings of our educational system in the topic "School Doesn’t Prepare You for Work or Life" from our project Dialogues with Julian Moody: On Life, Business, Sustainability, and Other Things.)