Success has failed us.


. . . School metamorphoses the child, giving it the kind of Self the school can manage, and then proceeds to minister to the Self it has made.

—Jules Henry


Jamie Kyra O’Keeffe, Ph.D., studies the shadow side of the culture of success. For her dissertation research, she conducted a two-year study at one of the world’s top universities, where students shared stories of chronic stress as they worked to maintain their impeccable images of success. Major research themes included:

  • THE TOTAL WINNER: The myth of the quintessential self-made individual who "does it all"
  • THE DUCK SYNDROME: Projecting an image of competence and calm above the waterline, while paddling frantically underneath
  • THE INNER CRITIC: The harsh voice of "the inner critic" that polices one's behavior
  • FAILURE AS SHAMEFUL: Failure is generally seen as shameful

This research documents the personal and social costs that may come with extraordinary achievement. Ultimately, student stress is a sane reaction to an insane system. They are striving to excel in the heart of American success culture, where individuals may assume that being anything less than "the total winner" is a deeply shameful failure. This work holds the potential to inspire a major culture shift in the ways we learn and work. If the culture of success is a culture of estrangement, then what kind of transformation will bring us back together?