That Age-Old Question: What is Success?

May 21, 2020

Success is the most well – understood and misunderstood word in the English language. People think they know what it means: victory, accomplishment, fame, money; but few know what it means for them. What I want to say is, popular culture has defined success in a very materialistic way. Most people buy into this definition and then subconsciously begin to compare themselves against it. This leaves people unhappy, unsatisfied, and always in pursuit of an elusive ‘success’ that they can never seem to grasp.


I know this feeling very well. When I started college I brought the ‘grades are everything’ philosophy from high school with me. While my friends joined organizations, made friends with people from different departments, and went on trips, I worked tirelessly to get straight A’s. A couple of marks lost on a mid-term were enough to put me in depression for a week. I enjoyed the ‘success’ that came with it, though. I loved it when my friends congratulated me for topping the class. My professors treated me differently because I was smart. My peers pointed me out as the potential gold medalist of the batch and came to me for help with their coursework. But the constant ‘No pain. No gain’ ideology was taking its toll on me. 


One day, after struggling with an assignment for 2 days, refusing to seek help from anyone else, and being bombarded by texts from my classmates asking for the answers, I got frustrated and tore my paper to shreds. I didn’t go to class for the rest of the week. I felt I had failed. My best friend came to my rescue at this time. For about a year, he had been pushing me to go out more and participate in campus life. 


A few days after my breakdown, he asked me to come with him to a nursing home with the community service society. He was shocked when I agreed to go. I didn’t realize how much I had been missing out on until I went on that trip. The society people welcomed me with open arms. We fooled around on the bus the entire way and I found myself laughing freely. The purpose of going to the nursing home was to give the company to the elderly residing there. I sat down with a woman in her late 80s who was almost deaf. I’d ask her one thing and she would answer another. Despite this, she enjoyed my company and I realized I enjoyed hers. 


I joined the community service society the very next day. Throughout the semester, I volunteered in food drives, gift-giving for orphaned children, and even taught at a makeshift school for homeless kids. Needless to say, I didn’t top the class that term. But I didn’t care. 


My thoughts about success had changed. I realized that it is not just all about having As on my transcript or measured by being top in the class. But I learned to measure it against the people I had positively impacted. This lifelong positive impact covered everything from cheering a friend up to teaching a kid to learn how to read and write.


Here is my simple advice: At the end of the day, think about what makes you happy. You should ask yourself if the definition of success, whether it be a career, assets, grades, money, or fame as defined by society, applies to you. If it doesn’t, come up with your distinct definition of success. 


Success is the most misunderstood word in the English language, but only because each of us must understand it in our very OWN way. Only then can we be truly successful.

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