In Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman, too, swallowed a lofty and unnatural ideal about what constitutes a ‘successful life’. He repeatedly sold himself a fervent and deluded conception of the ‘American Dream’, and it ultimately destroyed his marriage, his friendships, family and dignity.
Society painted a picture of such utopian beauty, he became transfixed by it, blinded by the promise of living its reality. Biff was initially sold on the same deceit, that both he and his father were destined for ‘greatness’, if only they followed the rules.
In one searing moment however, he realised what a ‘ridiculous lie’ his whole life had been. He burned his ‘phony dream’. Willy, so deeply lost within the dream and despite not having a ‘thing in the ground’, just couldn’t walk away.
Male suicide rates have increased 60% in the past 45 years (WHO, 2016), and CEOs suffer depression at twice the rate of others (Barnard, 2008) – yet we have never had more material wealth.
What is so compelling about the song of success that we, as children, abandon our natural, moment-to-moment joy for a lifetime of chasing, dissatisfaction and comparison?
To suffer ‘fifty weeks a year for the sake of a two-week vacation’? Ask a palliative care nurse the top regrets of the dying: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not what others expected of me, and I wish I hadn’t worked so hard (Steiner, 2012).
We have the wrong dreams. All, all wrong.
Barnard, J. W. (2008) Narcissism, Over-Optimism, Fear, Anger, and Depression: The Interior Lives of Corporate Leaders. University of Cincinnati law Review, William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 08-10. Available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1136888
Steiner, S. (2012) Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Guardian Newspaper Group. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/01/top-five-regrets-of-the-dying
World Health Organisation. (2016) Prevention of Suicidal Behaviours: A Task for All. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/background/en/