Today we're going to talk about success. At my university, we have a lot of students who enrolled, and tending to become doctors some day. Let's take a look at some of the possible answers to the question, why do you want to go to medical school? My father always wanted to be a doctor, but he needed to work from an early age to help support his family, and could never take that much time for advanced education. It means a lot to me that I can pursue this career and be the professional my family always wanted. Why wouldn't I want to go to medical school? I've always been good at science. And I like the idea of getting to help people. Coming out of an elite college, I'm obviously going to do something that will put me on track to be successful. And I don't mind being in school for a long time, given the rewards I'll see later, both personally and professionally. I like seeing my hard work pay off. The decision to go to medical school has involved a lot of reflection on who I am and what I want out of my career. I've been talking to a lot of people working in different areas, different health professions, trying to get a sense of what they really do each day, and how each of their roles fit with my interests and values. Do I need to work directly with patients? Do I want to find cures for diseases? What I've come to realize is that I'm most drawn to the intellectual challenge of diagnosis, in addition to feeling like I've connected with an individual patient. So for me, I really do need the MD. Now, there's nothing really wrong with any of these answers. But if you listen closely, you may have noticed that the first two seem to be influenced by what American culture defines as success, and that's the topic we'll explore now. First, let's consider what culture is. The field of cultural psychology looks at life experiences as filter through different cultural layers. Universal culture, for instance, is the experience of being a human being on Earth, that is shared by all of our species. Ecological culture refers to the ecosystem, including the climate, local vegetation, and wildlife that people experience and that affect their local way of life. Obviously, we also have national culture based on a sharing of land and built history, economic and governmental structures, and a heritage, a way of life. I'm going to talk specifically about American culture and its definitions of success. But first I'd like to acknowledge that how and the extent to which people are affected by the dominant American culture depends on how long they and their families have been living in the US. And the extent to which they have chosen to immerse themselves in that culture or retain their traditions of origin. Some of you may have just moved to the United States, while others watching this from abroad may never even have visited. For those of you who are here, I'm going to assume that one way or another, you will be affected by the American cultural norms regarding success. Some of you may fully believe in them, some of you may be affected only subconsciously, and others might feel like anthropologists collecting data on norms that are foreign to you. In any case, if you plan to study or work in the US, your professors, employers, and coworkers will also have internalized these cultural norms. Cultural norms can be explicit and clearly stated, or implicit and just assumed to be understood by those within a particular culture. Laws are an example of explicit cultural norms. Different countries have different laws that govern behavior. One example is that in the United Kingdom, people drive on the left side of the road, whereas in the United States and in most of Europe, they drive on the right. But some local ways of doing things are implicit, and can be difficult to understand for a newcomer. A college friend of my husband enjoys telling the story of how he visited his parents native Colombia, and went with one of his cousins to wait for a bus so that they could do some sightseeing. He noticed that the bus schedule listed a 10:00 AM arrival, so by 10:45 he was a bit annoyed that the bus had not arrived. His cousin simply shrugged and said that it could be another hour or two before they were on their way. But he was not bothered by the wait, their local concept of time was simply different. They experienced a slower way of life and their cultural script called for a much longer wait time for their bus than his Connecticut Yankee cousin was used to. There may be Americans in rural regions of our country that nod understandingly at this story. Another layer of culture is one's region, one needs only to consider Alaska, Hawaii, Texas, and New York City to realize that even in the United States people's physical surroundings have an enormous influence on how they go about their lives. Differences in dress, accents, even views of acceptable careers, are all influenced by local geography, as well as the immigration history of its residents, which brings us to another influential layer, ethnic culture. In the US, there exist many pockets of people who choose to live where they can comfortably practice their cultural traditions and reside among those who share them. Amish country is one obvious example. Of course, in many cases, such populations have been forced to stick together under less than ideal circumstances, due to a history of racism and socioeconomic inequality between the local culture and their dominant society. But regardless of the reasons, local communities come with their own distinct cultural values. People are all influenced in different ways by each of these cultural layers. Many who have lived within one culture have internalized its norms and are often unaware of the power of their meaning making. However, I think it's important to recognize that any national culture influences the thinking and behavior both consciously and unconsciously of all who live within it. The societal laws and regulations both explicit and implicit. That people believe a plot of that will vary according to this interaction, and of their perception of how they fit into the wider world around them. These perceptions result in a script for one's behavior. A guide to life that dictates everything from the most mundane everyday activities, like brushing one's teeth, to higher-level decisions, like choosing a career. I'd like to return to the American cultural script of the definition of success by looking at a particular figure in American history, Commodore Vanderbilt. You may recall from my own personal history that I worked as a tour guide in a historic home when I was a teenager. That property was called the breakers, the 73 room summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt, a grandson of the man who founded the family fortune. While Cornelius was born into great wealth, his grandfather, whose given name was also Cornelius, was born in poverty on Staten Island, New York in 1794. The fourth of nine children, he willingly gave up school in favor of helping out his father on the family farm and sailing around the island. According to a biography written by his descendant, Arthur T Vanderbilt II, at age 16, young Cornelius struck a bargain with his mother. He'd clear eight acres of rocky, uncultivated soil on their property and plant it with corn, in turn she'd lend him $100 to buy a sailboat. He succeeded and a year later, he was not only able to pay her back the $100, but handed over his $1,000 profit from his small ferry business as well. His nickname of Commodore, initially given to him as a joke by the more experienced boatmen down on the waterfront, stuck. His business boomed and grew during the war of 1812 as workmen and supplies needed to be ferried between area military bases. But by 1818, he had seen that the future was in steam boats so he agreed to work for a man who owned one. By the time he was in his mid 40s, he was not only once again working for himself, but was operating a fleet of over 100 steam ships and was worth several million dollars. He built himself a mansion on Staten Island with a view of the bay. By age 60, he was one of the richest men in America. When he sold the last of his steamships to the union during the Civil War, he had amassed $40 million, but rather than retire, he returned his attention to railroads. When he died at the age of 82, he was worth more than $100 million, more money than was in the US Treasury at the time. Not bad for a Staten Island farm boy. Commodore Vanderbilt is a textbook version of having fulfilled the American dream, achieving great wealth from nothing. Such examples have always been glorified in American culture. In the United States, how people define success and failure are rooted in a cultural script based on the principles of the Protestant Ethic, or the idea that hard work will lead to God's favor and redemption. This was a basic belief of some of the early European settlers, including a group called the Puritans. Puritans saw material success as a sign of God's favor and hard work who is in his service. However, settlers who followed were often simply looking for business opportunities. Cultural historian Scott Sandage has argued that one's identity is an American, is therefore virtually inseparable from a capitalist identity. There's also an inherent moral component to success, not surprising given our country's Protestant cultural influence. For instance, being in debt was regular touted in the 19th century as a moral failure, an inability to curb extravagance. Sandage points out that contrary to popular myth, corporations and profiteers settled America. As a result, material achievement and personal identity are strongly intertwined in American culture. W.E.B Dubois asserted that the Great American Assumption that wealth is mainly the result of its owner's effort, and that any average worker can by thrift become a capitalist. Sandage points out that Americans who fail financially are seen as born losers, since America's pull yourself up by the bootstraps credo assumes that hard work will conquer all barriers to success. This idea is known as social Darwinism, popularized in the late 19th century. Despite whatever outward circumstances might exist, one who fails in a capitalist society must have some character flaw that prevented success. National norms have a considerable effect on how people do or do not recognize barriers to achievement. Concepts of what constitutes personal failure were challenged during the Great Depression. But relatively high employment rates following World War II once again convinced workers that they could control their fates. Increasingly, patriarchal corporations set up pension and insurance structures which combined with the passing of the Social Security Act, shielded business people from economic uncertainty. But the 1980s saw downward mobility of the middle class thanks to an economic downturn and unprecedented waves of layoffs of business people, who though their employers would protect them. Public policy of that time under President Ronald Reagan reflected a growing fiscal conservatism that frowned on social supports such as welfare and promoted the idea of personal responsibility. What workers experienced was a broken psychological contract. What that means is that the promises that has been made to them, explicitly or implicitly, had never been met. Their employers were no longer offering job security and the government was thinning the economic safety net. Yet, when urban anthropologist Katherine Newman conducted 150 life history interviews in the early 1980s. She found that Americans, with their inherited Puritan heritage and the accompanying work ethic, tended to blame themselves for hardships that occurred in their lives. She described them as searching for the character flaw that has visited downward mobility upon them. Men and women she studied who lost their jobs tend to blame themselves, even when business or economic reasons were actually the reason for their failure. She argued that this self-blame arises from a belief in meritocratic individualism. The idea that if individuals are responsible for their own destiny's, there is no one else blame in case of failure. In a capitalist society and efficient market drives out the inefficient. In other words, century later social Darwinism was still a dominate cultural frame work that affected workers self worth, as well as public policy. Later generations seem less inclined to judge themselves this way. Generation X and Millennials never expected to be able to follow on one path to success in the first place, so varying from the norm has become the norm. My dissertation research suggests that Generation X practices a unique form of meritocratic individualism. One based on individual achievement as defined by the individual, rather than an organization, or by society at large. They're only out to impress themselves. What research exists on millenials suggest that they too are carving out their own brand of meritocratic individualism. One that is tied to their personal development rather than that of their employers. They recognize common barriers to success such as a poor economic climate or issues related to changing rules of engagement within their field, such as the need to remain both employed yet also willing and able to leave an employer if necessary. They attribute their own ability to navigate the work world as a mix of luck and personal effort. Younger generations assume instability as a normal state of affairs, which leads them to make decisions that optimize short-term future success, say several years rather than decades. But knowing that the return is uncertain, no guaranteed gold watch or cushy pension after years of loyal service. They're often unwilling to mortgage their personal lives for material gain. They are concerned with mission, purpose, and skill development. Yes, these things have always been important, but millennials will actively take these things into account when evaluating new job opportunities. They see their careers as inseparable from the rest of their lives, rather than seeing these two things as clearly demarcated. But like Generation X, they see their careers as quite separate from a specific employer. While they might work quite hard for one while they're there, their working identity transcends any one organization. The key differences within the Generation X and Millennial cohorts is how well individuals are able to sort through and select the options open to them based on identifying and pursuing personal interests. These generations faced a large number of career choices as college graduates in a free capitalist society. But also real structural barriers to perusing many of the options they considered. As I have found through my research and my counseling practice, some people are able to persevere and build relevant skills until the barriers are overcome. In contrast, others become frustrated and have difficulty finding real satisfaction with their work. Some still have not determined their real career interests. We've been talking a lot today about success as defined by American culture. To get a sense of how you define success, we're going to do an exercise developed by Professor Richard Shell at the University of Pennsylvania. It's called the Six Lives Exercise, and it's available online. Quick plug, he also has a course on Coursera, simply titled, Success. So if you enjoy the exercise, you might want to check out his course as well.