Too many good people think they are “adult underachievers” but aren’t. What they really are is folks who have chosen a different lifepath than the one that is accepted as the best way to live in our society.
(I’m in America, but probably still true in Australia and the UK. It’s less true in Europe. If you’re somewhere else, you’ll have to figure out if this is relevant for you.)
Maybe an example will help.
Last July, Maye Rain lamented her status as an underachiever (“Shoot Me, I’m an UnderAchiever!“). I don’t know her in any way and this is entirely based on how she portrays herself on her blog.
She makes it clear that she chooses her life:
Many of my friends who do this type of work are artists. Some of us have a lot of education and little or no use for it. I have two undergraduate degrees and a Masters in Fine Arts so why in the world would I choose to work in a diner?
My first reason for making such a decision was to stay the hell out of corporate America. I hate everything about it except the health insurance. Honestly, I really I hate the khaki clone clothes.
Not everyone who waits tables is an artist but she is. She’s educated. She has created a life outside of an environment (“corporate America”) that she believes would be toxic to her. Here’s someone who creates great jewelry and who even presents them in an artful manner.
But maybe she identifies the real nub of why so many people believe that they’re underachievers. Rain writes that she has been constantly checking the blogs and websites of two of her competitors, people who “don’t know I exist”.
The reason why, of course, is because I want to be like them. I want my jewelry to look that pretty and my house to look so quirky and cool and my dog to look freshly bathed. Mostly though, I want to be making money doing this thing I love.
Aye, there’s the rub. It sounds like she has the voices who say:
“You got the degree. You think you’re an artist. If you’re so smart, why aren’t you as rich as these other two people are?”
It’s all about money. Not because it’s all about money to her (I have no idea), but because it’s all about money for so many people in our society.
In our society, to “achieve” is not to “create something” or to “do something”: it’s to “make a lot of money”. Thinking isn’t an achievement.
As Warren Kinston once warned me, “Forrest, don’t denigrate the work of the mind!”
There are lots of people who have great ideas, but turning an idea into a “reality” is very difficult and takes a lot of hard work. Maye Rain has great ideas and is turning them into real life objects. She is consciously building a work practice with her jewelry sales, and is even expanding into other markets. This sounds like an achiever to me, albeit an achiever whose work is still down the Long Tail.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that although she self-identifies as an “adult underachiever”, she in no way is. If you’re someone like her, who produces work (achieves) but has not gotten monetary “success” (skads of cash), you are not an underachiever. Even given her schooling, she is not underachieving. She has chosen a career path that is very difficult to make money at (that’s just the way it is) and which she makes possible through waiting tables. Her recent posts sound much like a person who achieves and is on her way to paying her bills with what she wants to offer the world.
Sometimes one’s own mental development path makes a difference in what you can do and how “achievement” needs to be defined. And all too often people with the ability to achieve great things are often found in jobs like waiting tables.
No adult underachiever here. Not in my opinion.
Maye Rain is a pure achiever.
image credit: I have no idea. I scanned this out of a book and Photoshopped (well, Aldus Photostyler-ed) the guy on the left. Original title (I think) is “Drinking with the lads”.