Monday, August 24, 2015

The Differing Definitions of Success

My daughter is applying to colleges this Fall.  She and her friends have had many conversations about grades, extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, etc. and they always come back to the phrase, "It will look good on my college application."

She has one friend who is a little nutty with regard to the prospect of college.  Ever since we met her in middle school, her mantra has been "I can't get anything lower than an A. If I get a B I won't get into a good college which means I won't be able to get into a good graduate school which means I won't be able to get a good job which means I'm going to be homeless."  I'm not kidding.

We also knew people where we used to live who actually embodied the stereotype of desperately needing to get their kids into the best preschool so that they could go to the best private school so that they could get into the best college so that they would ultimately become successful. I don't know what happened to those people's kids, but I'm guessing that some of them veered off of the dictated path to pursue their own, not-as-lofty goals, as kids will do.

I wonder, what were those parents' definitions of success? If I had to make a guess I would say a high-profile career, with an extremely high salary, a large home, a luxury car, and possibly even private workers to help with mundane things like cooking, cleaning, and tending to the perfect little offspring, who would end up on the same path to success.  But what IS success, really?

The definition depends on where you are in your life age-wise, where you live in the world, what you are exposed to, and whatever situation you are currently in. Most of all though, I think it rides on how you were raised to view success.  For example:

Success to the mother in rural Rwanda means finding clean water for her family to drink.  Literally.
Success to the young girl in Mexico means getting to stay in school another day instead of being sold to a human trafficker.
Success to the mother in the U.S. with the premature infant in the NICU means another ounce gained and another day closer to bringing her baby home.
Success to young man in an Middle Eastern terrorist camp means a bomb plan carried out and massive destruction shown on the news.
Success to the toddler anywhere is convincing the parents to serve ice cream for dinner.
Success to the unemployed actor means securing the part that will give him work for the next six months.
Success to the AA member means fighting the cravings for another 24 hours.
Success to the non-profit owner means getting the grant that will keep the organization running for another year.
Success to the paraplegic means getting the wheelchair up the ramp and through the door.
Success to the dieter means the scale reads lower than it did yesterday.
Success to the jigsaw puzzle doer means getting the last piece in.
Success to the clinically depressed means pulling back the covers and getting out of bed.
Success to the skydiver means a safe landing.
Success to the person on his/her deathbed is looking back with no regrets.

What does true success mean to you? Really.  Not someone else's definition. Not what was demonstrated to you on television or on social media of what real success is.  Not what society deems successful by some random standards. What is your heart's, your mind's, your soul's definition of success?

Here's what the dictionary says:
Success: The favorable or prosperous termination of attempts of endeavors; the accomplishment of one's goals.

Nowhere in that definition does it mention money or other material things.  Nor does it mention chasing dreams that someone else laid out for you. Nor does it say that the accomplishment has to be massive or profound or world-changing. When you figure out what success means to you then strive for that above all else.  If it's a high-powered job with a huge salary, then good for you. If it's working in an underdeveloped country with all of your possessions in a backpack, good for you too.  If it's something else in-between, or if it changes throughout your life, good for you.  As long as it's actually good for you.

Ultimately I believe that true success equals happiness, and if you're truly happy, then you are successful. No matter where you went to college or what your next bonus check looks like. More importantly, no matter what anyone else thinks. We all have known plenty of people who were "successful" on the outside but terribly unhappy on the inside. Which is more important to you?

No comments:

Post a Comment