I don't want to be successful, I just want us to be free
My main anti-resolution, collective liberation goals for 2023
In a recent podcast interview, I was asked how I would respond to someone with a bootstrap “you can be successful if you worked hard enough” mentality who said that capitalism was the freest system ever built. I paused, reflected for a bit & then answered:
“I would first ask questions to understand where this person is coming from them, what struggles they’re facing and then try to connect with them over our shared pain because at our core- all of us just want to be cared for, loved and understood. I would tell them they were just a baby who didn’t choose to be born in the conditions they were forced into and once they were, they weren’t given the right to live but they deserve so much better… WE ALL DO. I’d speak to our shared exhaustion, constant fight/ flight survival mode we’ve both likely been in since birth, the pain of feeling abandoned by these systems, the yearning for love. I’d emphasize that love & care- giving & receiving it, is the reason we’re all here and there is nothing that feels better than deeply caring for the land & each other. Mostly… I wouldn’t know how to “respond” to this person until I got to truly know and connect with them first.”
The interviewer was silent for a bit and then said “Wow! Um yeah…. that is a really beautiful answer, um… seriously… yeah, we really haven’t heard an answer like that.. ask questions first. That is a really kind approach.” Their legitimate shock & awe made me realize “the left” still has a long way to go in terms of dismantling our moral superiority complexes and approaching all working class people with some basic compassion but also hey! this was an indicator of some growth I’ve had. Me from a couple years ago would’ve most likely launched into an impassioned anti-capitalist lecture fraught with political jargon, binary absolutes & not paused to even understand this person in front of me & the life they’ve had. Damn… I really was a self-righteous, indignant, prick in many ways which also means… damn, I still am in many other ways that I don’t realize yet.
There will be self-reflection questions for you attached to each goal or realization- feel free to share thoughts that come up for you & if anything resonates. I love hearing from y’all. It keeps me going. Thank you!
Now that the 2023 hype has passed, I’ll share a list of some hard lessons, hopeful realizations & reflections from 2022. These are my anti-resolution, collectivist resolutions. This year annihilated me, crushed my ego, uplifted my soul, drained me, regenerated me, made me want to be unborn AND infused me with hope & beautiful reasons to live. I’m learning to carry all this complexity.
There is something so freeing and liberating about realizing that I will always be wrong about something, never know everything, consistently realize ways I embody oppression that I need to work on… till the day I die. I’ll also keep getting NEW epiphanies about ways I can apply liberation to my life NOW to feel joy & be a meaningful member of my community. Phew! I AM NOT STAGNANT, I am a being capable of eternal evolution! OK… HERE WE GO!
Goal # 1: I no longer want to be successful in capitalist systems
I want to actively dismantle any self-centered goals I have in my head about amassing glory, fame, power, wealth & achievements— these things that have been glamorized by capitalism as a metric of how “good” or “worthy” an individual is in society and I’ve been socialized to chase these milestones.
Some of my earliest, naive, “ambitious” aspirations- borne out of poverty, instability, desperation, hunger, abandonment, loneliness, pain & suffering- are still oppressive aspirations that will never liberate me or my people. I told myself my success would mean “progress” for oppressed communities— this is a sad, heartbreaking lie I told myself for years to sleep better at night after 120 hour work weeks where I broke my body to get two letters “DR.” in front of my name.
Realization: I didn’t know what words like love, success, achievement, ambition, goals, hard work, motivation, winning etc meant. I thought I knew but when I stopped pretending, I realized these words have mainstream colonial, capitalist definitions. The intentional pursuit of success is fundamentally a self-centered, individualistic, egotistical journey that displays the extent to which someone has abandoned their community, climbed the ladder thru harmful means to distance themselves from those below & amassed accolades/ wealth by participating in cut-throat competition or exploitation of others/ the land on their way to the “top”.
Marginalized people being “successful” in the mainstream sense means the empire is more diverse. We have more black & brown oppressors. I don’t want to be one of them. I understand I am already complicit in oppression by my mere participation in capitalism (i.e. a job in healthcare- a capitalist system profiting off of sickness) or the nation state (i.e. paying taxes to the U.S. government to fund the oppression of many communities) but there are other choices I can make to divest & I want to divest from the rat race as much as possible. I want to pour most of my time, energy & labor into my community. It is arrogant for me to stick to the self-validating script that me accumulating wealth, accolades, climbing the colonial academic ladder, acquiring capitalist social status, or power in any form is a “good thing” that will trickle down to uplift my community.
Questions for you from GOAL # 1: What have concepts like success, personal ambition, career aspirations, achievements, fame, accomplishment, “winning”, “climbing the ladder”, etc meant to you? How have you been socialized since your childhood to aspire to career milestones or success by winning at cut-throat competition? How have you been taught to celebrate winning at the expense of others & what toll has this had on you? What have you told to sacrifice in the present for future goals? Can these self-centered, individual aspirations really be the key to happiness & contentment when those are contingent on connection & community?
What types of check-ins & accountability mechanisms can you set up (for yourself & by relying on community) to slowly divest from capitalist aspirations & reframe your personal “goals” through a more collectivist lens? How can your personal goals be geared towards advancing our collective pursuit of safety & freedom? What would “goals”, aspirations, milestones & ambition mean if we reimagined them as collective pursuits for the betterment & liberation of all? What goals could you create for yourself that are more grounded in community & enable your reconnection to your ecosystem? What are your anti-capitalist, collective liberation goals?
Goal #2: Practice being un-exceptional. I’m not better than anyone in my village who didn’t “make it”. I’m not innately more deserving of access to survival resources than anyone else.
I don’t want to be a good story or a symbol of resilience. I don’t want to “make it” under these systems that crush us all or have more beyond having my basic survival needs met. If I happen to have more than what I need to live, I want to continue redistributing it among my local community but I do not want to selfishly pursue more wealth or power under the pretenses that it will trickle down to my communities.
F**k competition. F**k celebrating my “wins” in rat races that are contingent on others losing. F**k celebrating achievements that came from me conforming and being politically disembodied (even if I didn’t have a choice). YES TO CELEBRATING the moments I divest the most from capitalist conditioning! YES to celebrating more daily moments of communal comfort like cooking a meal for people, relational joy like intimacy or learning something wonderful about a native plant or pollinator. YES to celebrating the divinity of our ecosystems.