We all have experienced exhausting weeks: the ones where work piles up and life becomes a checklist of seemingly insurmountable tasks. We progress through such weeks by operating on a work-oriented autopilot, and become part of a balancing act that threatens to become undone at the slightest misstep. We feel both fragile and strong, and fuel our motivation with the pressure to succeed.
In today’s world, the pressure to succeed has become central to our way of life: we work to live and live to work. The concept of success is perceived as monetary or occupational, and often largely ignores personal measures of success. Success becomes your salary or your title, not your happiness or goal fulfillment.
I grew up with the notion that success is measured by your ability to try new things without immediately giving up, especially when faced with difficulty. As such, I tried innumerable activities in the search for something that would give me a creative outlet. I attempted to master gymnastics, basketball, horseback riding, violin, painting, and other such activities. While none of these served their purpose of providing me with a definite creative outlet, I gave them my best shot. I felt successful for doing my best, and the thought of failure barely crossed my mind.
My perception of success was greatly changed later in life. High school established an industrialized perception of success. It was a carefully controlled environment in which everyone was in competition with one another. Success assumed the role of grades, and its scope narrowed over time. Success became standardized test scores, course grades, and college application acceptances. Success was advancing chairs in the school orchestra, creating breathtaking and admirable works of art, and receiving multiple awards for other remarkable achievements. The air of competition was saturated with this need to rise above others to succeed, and I was often dissatisfied with my work no matter how hard I worked to get to where I was. My personal achievements became failures shadowed by the perceived successes of others.
When I got to college, I was not sure what to expect. I was no longer in such a controlled environment, and I was here on my own behalf. I no longer knew what success meant. Everyone studies to become an expert in the field of their choosing, and as such success is no longer measured universally. Curriculums vary greatly in their structure, and salary becomes the subsequent determinant of success. As I started to think about what I wanted to pursue later in life, I was faced with many challenges. I started college under the impression that I would pursue a major in Economics. However, I discovered that it was not the embodiment of my interests that I initially perceived it as. As a result of this realization, I reflected on my past interests. As I thought through my life, I became aware of the true natures of my “failures”.
As I ventured through my memory, I thought about each “failure”. I reflected on my attempts at various competitive sports, my brief interest in the sciences, my continuous struggle with mathematics, and my discontinued violin performances. I then shifted my perspective, and viewed these events as indicators. Through this lens, they represented my attempts at finding what I needed to live a fulfilled life. Through re-learning my old perception I was able to clearly identify my strengths. By admitting my weaknesses and transforming them into lessons, I was able to achieve the positive state of mind I needed to see my true successes: what brought me joy.
Memories of reading by the glow of the fireplace on cold winter evenings, and writing feverishly in my creative writing journals flooded back. Recollections of my favorite classes and conversations were vivid in my mind, and I was no longer a summation of failures but an embodiment of my strengths.
College has challenged me in ways that I have not been challenged before. I was tasked with redefining success, and assessing how I fit into that mold. For me, success is not the traditional marker of salary or occupational title. Instead, success is identifying and pursuing your strengths with the goal of living a fulfilled life. I intend to live out the rest of my college life and beyond with this redefinition in mind. I will no longer let small “failures” obscure my overall achievements, and I will use my strengths to guide my path to a fulfilled life.
© The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.