Does Success Require Being Pretentious?

Have you ever had that screeching halt moment when you asked yourself, “Wait… does being successful require being pretentious?”

Success is a wonderful thing. When that success comes with a financial windfall, even better. But, the behaviors assumed and expected from success and wealth can be a runaway train.

When velvet ropes part at your whim, you can buy just about whatever you want,  you get to rub elbows with the elite crowd, and live behind gated homes, the lifestyle can be a huge drain for some.

Once you can join those groups, clubs, events, etc… that you always wished you could, but weren’t wealthy or successful enough, you might start to notice, everyone seems to be trying to impress each other. Constantly. You have to keep raising the bar on where you live, what you drive, what you wear, where you vacation, how you fly…. Keeping up and trying to impress the Jones’ might look like this is just the way success needs to be. It’s not.

How often do you find yourself feeling like you need to be polite and spend time interacting with people you really don’t care to be around? Perhaps they make you uncomfortable or maybe they have personality traits you find offensive, toxic, and pretentious.

Given the choice, you would probably never speak to a certain person or group of people again….. but, it’s part of business, family or forced social connections, so you have to.

After all, you wouldn’t want to insult someone by choosing not to have them in your personal or business ecosystems, would you? There could be considerable backlash if you did choose to eliminate the contact. Am I getting close?

In the business world, it’s a widely held belief that our network is our net worth. What then, does it say about your ‘net worth’  if, deep down inside, you don’t like some or even most of the people in your network?

There came a time when I asked myself that very question. The answer to my own reflection was this; I was behaving no differently than the shallow, pretentious, and toxic people in my life, that I didn’t want in my life.

If I really didn’t want them in my life, wasn’t I being just as fake and toxic as they were by keeping them around and ‘playing nice?’ I was in a position where I felt forced to play nice and tolerate people because that’s what successful people have to do.

It comes with the territory, at least, that’s what I was taught. It took something serious for me to speak up when I thought “the crowd” was out of line. That’s not being very authentic.

Did I ever let people know what I really thought? How I really felt? Who I really was? What I felt was truly important? Rarely, if ever.

That’s when I realized my definition of success does not include:

  1. being painfully uncomfortable with the people in my business/life
  2. spending valuable time with people I find highly toxic and revolting
  3. being pretentious and shallow
  4. suffocating rules dictated by a group, class, institution or gender
  5. faking my smile
  6. selling something I don’t believe in
  7. faking my belief system/values

If I came to be successful through pretension, if I have to be someone I’m not, I’m not really successful! I’m a slave to the pretension of success!

I felt the success was a fraud and so was I.  That’s when I decided to redefine what it means to be successful and the way I would navigate my new path and version of success.

[This pretentious blind spot can be one of the many contributions to being successful and unhappy, instead of successful and satisfied.]

One of the widely held beliefs in the business and personal world is the need to be, what equates to, pretentious. Pretentiousness is veiled in networking, social etiquette and growing a sphere of influence, justifying it with the belief that’s the way to build relationships, influence, and success. Somewhere along the way, we lost sight of the difference in genuine relationships and the real meaning of success.

We all have our own unique meaning of success, however, I’ve never heard anyone define success as “spending time with people I don’t like and trying really hard to impress people”.

If I discover a person I’m connected with in some way, displays toxic behavior, I choose not to allow them into my ecosystem, my circle or sphere of influence. That does make a lot of people with toxic personalities a lot more toxic and angry, it may even cause them to plant little toxic seeds out in the world about me, yet, I no longer engage with trying to clean up the mess they create. I do not engage with toxic people and their behavior. That’s not in my definition of success. My new success is based on authenticity.

I may slip up once in a while and bend to the expectation or fear of not being accepted, but then, I go right back to my new rules of engagement. I realize I have a choice in how I live my life and who I spend my time with.

I’ve been told many times, that kind of success is unobtainable; I need to lower my standards. I choose not to believe that as truth.

As long as I know my achievements, connections, relationships, and smile are authentic and genuine, I am successful. When I can spend my time with people I enjoy, people I trust, people I like, I am successful. When I wake up every day, doing what I love and making a positive impact for the money I earn, I’m successful. If I know my successes and accomplishments didn’t come from sacrificing my authenticity, I’m a success!

So, the answer to the original question; NO, I don’t believe success requires pretension. Pretension to me is failure.

About the Author: 

Tamara is an international leader in human and business performance. Developing high functioning navigational skills in rapidly changing and volatile environments, working with high functioning individuals looking to grow into more meaningful success and leadership roles in their unique situations. Whether leading a growing business of 1,000 or leading their individual lives, she helps them Show Up Strong® in every situation. Their businesses and personal lives gain in the quality of their strengths, growth, and impact.

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