Success Does Not Mean Autonomy

Andrew Derse
4 min readNov 22, 2023
Gears within a machine
Photo by Pixabay

The American Dream. Something so many of us strive for.

The definition of the American Dream by Merriam-Webster is:

a happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans as something that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S. especially by working hard and becoming successful

For me, the key word there is “successful”.

In our pursuit of success we have this unspoken desire to be self-governed or autonomous. Meaning that we desire to do what we want, when we want to do it, with whom we want.

I believe there are a few reasons we have this autonomous desire deeply rooted in us as Americans.

  1. Some of us grew up poor and relied on other people and “success” to us means that we will never ever rely on someone else again.
  2. We see so many people “making it” and achieving “success” and they make it look “so easy”.

But the reality most often is that:

  • It doesn’t happen fast enough.
  • It doesn’t happen big enough.
  • Maybe it looks like it isn’t going to happen at all.
Frustrated male
Photo by Nathan Cowley via Pexels

This can tend to lead to anger and frustration and usually hits men by the age of 40–45 years old which we in turn dub the infamous “mid-life crisis”.

The sad reality of this is that we don’t even recognize the source of this frustration and that tends to spill out into all of the wrong areas of our lives like our wife, kids, car, and career path.

But what is REALLY going on here?

Why does it feel like we’re not successful when we are?

Success is an appetite that you can’t satisfy or a thirst you can’t quench.

When you feed it, it grows. Suddenly the dream of owning a home isn’t good enough. Your home doesn’t look as big as your neighbor’s home or the new car you bought a year ago doesn’t have the same appeal anymore and you “need” to upgrade.

The same principles apply to autonomy.