As millennials, we often look outwards to help us realign our 'paths to success' in the forms of mentors, articles, videos and other outside sources. In my search to find the meaning of success, I've hit several dead ends, because something was never quite right. Something was missing. And in my realization, I came to ask, "who determines the markers of success and who challenges them?"
A slew of articles online make 'success' and how to achieve it so black and white. In 6 Things You Should Quit Doing To Be More Successful, writer Molly Cain urges readers to stop saying yes. But in a HuffPost blog, Tina Fey says her secret to success is saying 'yes'. So what's the answer?
As far as I can tell, how success is defined at universities is through self-promotion. This was not so obvious during my earlier years as a freshman, when I saw people genuinely sharing their dreams or even an honest 'I don't know.' But as I inch closer and closer to graduation, the meaning of success as changed for so many people. It's not okay to say you don't know what you're doing anymore and oftentimes, it's not okay to want to pursue your dream, because it brings little prestige to you or the University. So instead, this leads to the need to self-promote through resumes, your portfolio, etc. in order to land that job that everyone wants, despite really understanding why you want it. Not everyone has dreamt big or even needs to, but for those that do, it's a real shame to see aspirations and talents go to waste because people are too afraid to recreate their own definition of success outside of the one given to us by society.
Success, through competitive research grants, internship hunts and job searches -- is becoming more about resumes and previous work experience than actually putting change into motion. My friends who once dreamt about wanting to end sex trafficking or stop global hunger are now searching for consulting and finance positions, which will dry up their creativity and passion for leaving a dent in the world. Today more than ever, many people are conforming to 'what looks good' or even convincing themselves that they want something when they really don't because of what society tells us is a 'prestigious' job or activity to do. This is a problem, because the older we get, the more skeptical we are of the idea of 'changing the world', as it seems so far out of reach. Some people may say this change in mindset may be because we need to 'grow up' and stop being 'so idealistic', but if more people think like this, then less people will be able to make the large impact that the world needs to move forward in a positive direction. We're told to solve the problems that the world presents to us and work within the scope of what we're given, but why not disrupt? Why not consider complete alternatives to the world that we're given and start a revolution?
Personally, I've fallen in the trap of pre-defined success many times. When I was choosing between colleges, I chose the most prestigious one, because I had no idea what I wanted to do. I distinctly remember hearing my family friends say, 'Wow, great school! She's going to be successful some day.' And I was confused. I hadn't done anything at that point, and their words added a heap of pressure to what 'success' was to me at that point. How could they assume that going to a good school meant I'd accomplish my dreams of changing the world? Because early in our lives, society defines success by what we have on paper, rather than whether we are good people who go the extra yard to help a neighbor in need or listen to a friend in need.
Everyone has their own definition of success, and that's okay. For me, I've decided to redefine success for myself. Rather than constantly looking outwards to validate what success is, I'm going to look inwards. My goals may be lofty, but the point is to pursue them now. Stanford graduate Alok Vaid-Menon gave a TedTalk where he discussed success and the status quo, and the most powerful line that stood out to me was "You, who sacrificed dream for diploma." Going to Kenya to work for a venture capital firm next quarter, I've had my doubts on why I was rushing or pushing myself in unnecessary ways. But when I asked myself, how do you define success for yourself, the answer became clear. Success to me, is constantly pushing myself out of my comfort zone and not letting outside factors determine who I am or who I'm expected to be. It's fighting for the solutions I want to see to problems I'm passionate about, but seeing the situation with an open mind. It's not losing the energy and not having extraneous situations cloud the vision I have for the world. It's being okay with not knowing and to keep working to figure it out.
Success, according to Vaid-Menon, is a violent and manipulative process. That means we can be the first generation to end, instead of perpetuate the violence. We can start by embracing each other's definitions of success. So let's dream big now, fight our fears and the status quo and support each other to create a better world we can all call a success.