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Building for success

by Tim Middleton

The tallest building in the world currently is the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai reaching a staggering 828 metres up (almost a kilometre!) into the sky with 163 storeys, while its nearest competitor is the Shanghai Tower in China, which rises up 632 metres with 128 storeys.

Compare that to the tallest building in Zimbabwe which is the meagre 28-storey New Reserve Bank building in Harare, only measuring a measly 120 metres tall. Look on the bright side though — if the electricity goes off in Dubai or Shanghai, it is a daunting thought to climb all those stairs or for a generator to send power all that distance! The question has to be asked, however: Why on earth do we want or need buildings to be so tall?

One reason given that buildings are becoming taller and taller is that there is less land available and so the only way is up. Perhaps too some people and businesses need to see far off into the horizon! Many perhaps are purely for show — after all, why decide on 163 floors? Why not 150 or even just 100 or 80? Even if there is an apparent need, there are real dangers.

Putting buildings up to such heights is increasing the risk and danger to those in them and those around them. They are a sitting duck for lightning and all sorts of storms, not to mention terrorist planes. To think that bigger and higher is better is missing the point.

The same reasoning might well be applied to those who seek to encourage our youngsters to aim higher and higher, to build their lives for success (which often is purely a synonym for “show”). Motivational speakers will harp on about the need to succeed, that everyone must succeed, which of course rather loses the point as not everyone can succeed — in fact, far more people will fail than succeed, if only one can succeed, by its very definition.

Have we ever stopped to ask: Why do people need to succeed? Why do we push people to go higher and to achieve more success? In one sense there is absolutely nothing wrong with success — many people’s achievements and successes are exceptional and honourable. However, as with building these extraordinarily large buildings perhaps we should think for a moment or two before we do encourage others to go higher. In many cases, it would be wise to discourage reaching for the sky, not least as they look totally out of place.

Firstly, while some folk will succeed, many more folk will not. That in itself is not so much the problem; the problem is that we do not prepare such folk for not succeeding and so when they do not succeed they will suffer badly. It is irresponsible of anyone to teach a young child to be successful if they do not teach them how to cope with the failure.

Furthermore, the fact is that many, many people who do succeed in one area of life end up failing in another area. success comes at a price and the price is often not worth it. If we are to succeed in one area of our life we will have to sacrifice other important areas and focus on one thing at the expense of others.

What is more, the higher someone goes, the more dangerous it is, the more risk that is required — more things can go wrong in a high-rise building, and more things can go wrong the higher one goes in life. We need to ensure our youngsters are aware of all such dangers.

The central point about success is that it is all about self and consequently not about community or society yet we all live in society. In pursuit of success, we strive to do to others either before they do to us or because they did to us, as opposed to doing to others what we would want them to do to us.

Thus our success will cause others to fall — my tall building will cast heavy shadows over smaller buildings; my advance will cause others to suffer in some way. Success is not necessarily helpful.

While success is about self and “show” it, therefore, makes us a target for others. We may gain much adulation by being in the spotlight, but that only serves to keep us in the limelight in which we may become dazzled and blinded, to the point where we become complacent, conceited or controlling, all aspects of character that are not what are desired.

One writer has said that the “worst thing that can happen is to succeed before we are ready”. Success should be a by-product of our efforts, not the be-all-and-end-all. Are our children ready? Are their foundations strong? We do not need to climb a high tower to see that far ahead.

Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.

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