Signs of success
SIGNS OF SUCCESS
SIGNS OF SUCCESS
What is success?
A lot is said, written, and taught today about how to achieve success in life. For most people, if not all, becoming successful is a goal that they aspire to. But success is often elusive: it is difficult to know when we have achieved it. Our initial hypothesis has been that the signs of success have become more nuanced and diverse over time: our research in this area from the eighties concerns itself with physical objects including cars, microwaves, and video recorders.
Our research today shows the signs of success have shifted more into experiences rather than possessions.
In this report we dig deeper into this topic, our objective is to answer the deceptively simple question of “what does it mean to be successful in the UK today?”. Recognising it is a slippery concept we approach it from multiple angles.
We ask what people think drives success
We weigh up the balance of hard work, background, and luck today, before digging into the powerful influence of geography on the chances people think they have to succeed. We find a large group who consider themselves to be highly successful already – a perception shaped primarily by age.
We then look at how success makes people feel
We explore how much people want it in the first place and investigate what the UK’s strivers look like, and its more self-satisfied citizens. In addition, we examine the spectrum of emotions success (or its absence) can evoke – jealousy, competition, recognition, and control over your life. Using social intelligence analytics, we uncover the far sharper conversation around success that exists online, highlighting a greater environment for jealousy than the survey data might suggest.
Finally, we focus on the signs of success
We know many of the most popular types of success are non-material, but our focus is unabashedly materialistic: what possessions and experiences do people in the UK take as signs that other people are succeeding in life? Does the question even make sense in an era of “quiet luxury” and discretion? Again, our enquiry looks at both the online and offline realms, using data from our online behaviour panel to investigate gaps between what people say in surveys and what they do online.
The evolving signs of success
What we find confirms some of our hypotheses: the signs of success have changed. In many ways they have been democratised – household appliances like dishwashers, which were rare signs of distinction in the 1980s, or widescreen TVs, which were status symbols in the 2000s, have become commonplace.
But this does not mean we are all successful now. Fitting its mercurial status, success remains elusive: those physical possessions are seen as signs of success by few people. The biggest sign of success in the UK today is owning your own home, a status which is becoming increasingly difficult to attain, for younger people especially. The growth of discrete luxury speaks to the way that the signs of success are moving into new codes that are less ostentatious – but also harder to crack for those not in the know.
“The growth of discrete luxury speaks to the way that the signs of success are moving into new codes that are less ostentatious – but also harder to crack for those not in the know.”
Even if the individual signs are now different, our report identifies some commonalities. The theme running through the most popular signs of success is not high achievement, renown, or expensive things – it is financial security. In the UK today, the basis of success is built on homeownership, savings that can be passed on to family and a good pension. Perhaps this is good news as these are statuses which more than half of the UK public think they have achieved. However, our data suggests, it is likely that even for these people, success will lie just out of reach.
The UK public view echoes the mainstream perspective found online: Meritocracy matters
see hard work as essential to getting ahead in life.
credit an individual’s skills and talents, education, and ambition as essential or very important factors.
There is a strong correlation between the area someone lives and their potential and achieved success
of people in the northeast are more likely to be dissatisfied with jobs in their local area compared with the UK average of...
Jealousy appears to be particularly prevalent among the younger generation
of Generation Z say they “often feel jealous of people who I think are more successful than me.”
say they think many people are jealous of their own successes in life.
Studies carried out in the late eighties identified large gaps in attainment for what are now considered everyday items
of Britons in the 80s said they could not afford a dishwasher. Decades of rising prosperity later, many of these markers are no longer salient.
have a dishwasher, so traditional ideas of success tied to possessions may no longer apply.
Ostentatious luxury and expensive possessions are not a universal sign of success in the UK
of people enjoy possessing expensive items and taking part in behaviours that display their wealth. This reticence and preference for discretion is replicated in behaviours online – we see that visits to luxury websites are similarly limited.