Our Individualistic Culture Is Dangerous
Updated: Mar 18, 2021
Our individualistic culture is dangerous.
I came to this realization in December, when I found myself immersed in a constant stream of motivational content.
As I had been beginning my journey of daily exercise, I searched for new ‘motivational videos’ on YouTube. At the same time, I had TikTok downloaded, and there was a constant stream of supposedly motivational content on this platform too.
Soon, this motivational content became something I consumed daily, through various platforms. Though varying in the way the message was shared, the message of this content was fundamentally the same: the path to success is a lonely road, you will not be successful if you count on anyone but yourself.
Something felt very wrong about this message, but it is very ingrained in our culture. We live in a society which prides itself on individualism. We brag about being independent, self-sufficient, and not needing anyone but ourselves to celebrate the highs and grieve the lows.
Not only is the idea that “The path to success is a lonely road,” perpetuated in today’s society, but not needing anybody else has become somewhat of a bragging right.
So, this culture is dangerous, not only for how we set out to achieve our goals, but for our emotional health and well-being.
The Misconception That We Have to Walk the Path to Success Alone
Why do we to hold the belief that the people in our lives will distract us from, or interfere with, our journey to success? This is simply not true. Is it so hard to achieve goals whilst maintaining and nourishing important relationships and connections with the people we love?
Now, let me be clear, this does not mean that we don’t stay focused and committed to our goals. Maybe this means you decide to go out two Friday nights a month, instead of four. You need to make time to sit down, lay out your goals, and determine how you are going to reach them. It does not mean you neglect putting effort into your friendships to focus solely on yourself and your success.
Also, reflect on what success looks like to you. Success should be defined as creating the best possible life for yourself. Does this mean, money, power, and fame to you? Or does it mean living a life doing what you love? Your definition of success is crucial. If your vision of success is not power, but doing what you love, the people you surround yourself with should support you and help you achieve this success.
If you are surrounding yourself with people who attempt to thwart your journey to success, or people whose vision doesn’t align with your own, maybe it’s worth reflecting on the people in your life. If you are surrounding yourself with the right people, they will be happy to walk the path of success with you. We need people in order to achieve success.
After all, our strive for success is ultimately a strive to achieve happiness. And in order to be happy, we need others. If you don’t believe me, just do some research on how important relationships are for our well-being...the data is overwhelming.
So, in summary, the path to success shouldn’t be a lonely one at all. You shouldn’t want to walk it alone, and you definitely shouldn’t have to. Your road to success should be filled with people who motivate, love, and care for you.
2. The Misconception That We Don’t Need Anyone but Ourselves
We briefly touched on this in the last paragraph, but we really do need people to be happy. We can all attest to how difficult the pandemic has been on our social lives, and many of us are struggling with feelings of loneliness and isolation.
I think we can all agree social connection is good for us and we enjoy being socially connected. We know there’s a host of benefits that comes with social connection- better mental and physical health, a more enjoyable life, and lower levels of stress... but I would argue that there is a true need for social connection.
We are hardwired to need other people (don’t take my word for it, take UCLA neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman’s word for it - his book “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Connect discusses this very thing).
Let’s bring in a little neuroscience. Scattered throughout our brains are ‘mirror neurons’ - these help us read other people’s feelings and emotions.
When two people are talking, each person stimulates the other’s mirror neuron system, and causes us not only to mimic each other's facial expressions- but it causes us to feel exactly what the other person is feeling (https://www.6seconds.org/2012/01/16/are-we-wired-for-empathy/). We don’t do this consciously - it’s hardwired in us and has been since birth.
To prove this, I'd like to provide the example of a newborn baby and his mother. The newborn, helpless, needs to attach to his mother because he can’t survive without her. Survival, for the baby, depends on connection.
Needing others is something that we’ve been practicing since we were born….we just began to feel ashamed somewhere for it somewhere along the way, we began to think we simply didn’t need it, or, alternatively, we started getting mistaken for what counts as ‘social connection.’ (Commenting on someone’s Instagram post or sending Snapchat streaks does not count as social connection).
We need social connection, and to prove this, let's take a look at what happens when we don't receive the connection we so inherently desire.
A group of researchers at UCLA determined what happens to our brains when we face social rejection - the stark opposite of social connection.
The researchers completed a computerized experiment where people were gradually ‘kicked out’ of a multi-player game. They recognized that, when they kicked a person out of the game, that person's anterior cingulate lit up - the exact same area that lights up when an individual experiences physical pain.
It was concluded, then, that the pain of social rejection is biologically the same as the pain of being physically hurt (https://www.wcwonline.org/2010/humans-are-hardwired-for-connection-neurobiology-101-for-parents-educators-practitioners-and-the-general-public)
We are very cautious, in day-to-day life, avoiding putting ourselves in situations where we might get physically hurt, yet we willingly isolate ourselves socially, when they have the same effect on our brain.
Protect your mind like you do your body- do not socially isolate yourself but connect with others as frequently as you can…. your mind, body, and spirit will be rejuvenated.
There is no shame in needing others, you are supposed to need others- it has been hardwired into your DNA- and it’s never a good idea to push away or reject your tendencies/ inborn qualities, these exist and are innate for a reason.
To conclude, please surround yourself with other people. You don’t need to walk the ‘path of success’ alone, and you shouldn’t have to.
You don’t need to rely on only yourself, you need people…. and you were never meant to be alone, in fact, you were hardwired for the exact opposite, you were hardwired to connect.
Make yourself a priority. When you make yourself a priority, you will come to the beautiful truth that in order to put yourself first and be successful, you can’t do it alone. You need other people.
And other people need you, too.