For Longreads, writer Soraya Roberts recently wrote a scintillating takedown of modern notions of success in her essay, “The Myth of Making It.” The central theme is the never-ending pursuit of “enoughness,” plus the suggestion that this nagging sense can never be appeased externally. Other topics include “comparing up,” the Skater of the Year Award, and On Becoming a God in Central Florida. Roberts, take it away:

I think maybe I thought I made it a couple of times. Both of them had to do with jobs. Both were fleeting feelings — very much tied to age and stage of life — and I’ve never felt the same way again. I don’t know what “making it” would even look like now: maybe having enough money to buy a house (see: acquire an “asset”) and not be immediately broke? I’d probably still feel dissatisfied because I didn’t write some book or win some award or, like, live around enough trees. That lack of internal contentment, I think, is the problem. It’s what makes grasping at outside validation so fruitless. An already mythical idea, “making it” becomes ever more elusive when measured externally — by accolades, wealth, any sort of acquisition. It becomes as fungible as those things are, whether according to your own circumstances or to the world’s. You’re either competing with yourself to outdo what you’ve already achieved, or you’re competing with someone else for a bigger share of some pie (and there’s always someone else). Or maybe you aren’t consciously competing with anyone; you just have this kind of profound insecurity that follows you from triumph to triumph, serving only the market you buy into, in order to stave it off, but no one else.

Take Tyshawn Jones, who’s only 20 and has already been named Skater of the Year by Thrasher magazine, but who can’t stop talking about what he doesn’t have. Or actress Kirsten Dunst, who’s been nominated for award after award, but still feels uncelebrated. Or Bill Hader, whom The New York Times Magazine recently confronted about his show’s success. (It received 17 — 17! — Emmys nods.) The Barry creator conceded the win, but also acknowledged the difference between external praise and the way he berates himself internally. “It never ends,” he explained. “That’s the thing.” […]

So it’s either about recognition or it’s about money, money or recognition. But both come second to the end goal of making it, the Platonic ideal of the Valuable Citizen. Self-actualization, community, autonomy…those things are nice, but they aren’t particularly profitable for a capitalist society. Material is. And measuring success materially keeps success perennially elusive because the standard of comparison is always shifting under your feet… The market exploits and perpetuates the constant feeling that we’re not good enough, or, in [Tyshawn] Jones’s case, not secure enough, by convincing us it has the answer. Every payday or product whispers to us that we’re that much closer to making it — whatever it is — without ever actually allowing us to get there.

Read the rest here.