I started reading Gen Y Girl out of curiosity the other day, and I came across a post about success. The post inspired a lot of reflection on my behalf, because the truth of the matter is: I was a lot like the author, Kayla. I loved her take on success and how she talks about gen y redefining it. Success in the corporate world is no longer just about climbing ladders and exceeding limitations, but it’s about fulfillment and having time for the people and things we love in life.
The thing is, while that’s a great definition of success – right now I have to think about successes on a smaller scale.
When I was young, I had lofty aspirations and constantly changing ideals of what it would take to be successful in life. I just KNEW that if I got into the gifted program I would be successful, from there it was continuing to get great grades. Not only did I need to get great grades in order to be successful, I needed to get the best grades. I was competitive. When I took my SAT I scored a 2050 the first time despite a migraine and literally falling asleep in between segments because I wasn’t feeling well, but a friend of mine got a higher score. He wasn’t about to let me live it down, either. In order to be “successful” I retook it.
The truth of the matter is: He was my main competition throughout school – he tried to egg me on about how he was better because he was male. One of my many definitions of success growing up, due in part to his attitude and the amount of time I spent in classrooms with him, became being as good as if not better than the guys. I wanted to do well at everything: academics, music, athletics. I threw myself into everything I could and tried my best to be the best.
I also had so many ideas about what it would take to be successful in the long term: I had to be a doctor so I could help people (then I realized I hated biology); I was going to become a pastor because I went through a phase where I was really religious, and I thought that I could help other people, act as a teacher (I was great at memorizing verses, etc), and my housing could be paid for too(!); then I realized that I wasn’t too sure about sticking to Christianity, and the main reason I wanted to approach ministry was to teach – so my new idea of a successful life was to go to the honors college at my local university (something I had wanted for a long time if I’m being honest – I felt special because it was “the honors college,” it differentiated me from the rest) and pursue a degree in deaf education. I was going to finish out my degree on time because I would be dual certified in elementary education and deaf education, and I was going to get good grades throughout. I even considered a double major before I was told that I probably wouldn’t get out on time so I gave up on that aspiration. My new idea of success was to get good grades, get out on time, and then move on to graduate school and ultimately get a PhD. My idea of success became a life of academia (and, of course, continuing to be “the best”). I was such an elitist.
But life threw some curveballs in there. When my health problems started flaring throughout my college career I began to think of success as surviving the semester, getting my health in check, and preferably continuing to get good grades. It was still the same general concept – but surviving and figuring things out became important bullet points on the list of necessary accomplishments to be successful. No matter what my idea of success continued to be: GET OUT ON TIME. If I didn’t get out on time, I was a failure.
When things went haywire this semester, I couldn’t keep up anymore. I had failed. I failed to survive, I failed to get out on time, I was a failure. I started to think about it differently after a while, though. I realized that my change of circumstance needed to come with a change of perspective.
I may not have succeeded in the way I had hoped to for so long, getting out of college without needing to add on extra semesters (because who needs extra time to complete a four year plan?). But I was succeeding at other things.
Today, success takes on many faces – some of which change daily. Success is still keeping in touch with the people who matter to me. Success is recognizing and being cognizant of my limits. Some days I might be able to push the envelope, go dancing, run errands all day long before hitting a brick wall and just collapsing. Other days I might only be able to do a few things, need to take a nap, maybe even need to sleep all day. On days like that I would love to define success as being able to cook a meal without feeling faint, but I would probably get annoyed with myself when I ultimately started getting that familiar hot feeling and had to go sit down. Some days success is being able to go for a run, especially without using my inhaler – although that’s a stubborn moment inspired by fear.
Success is being able to handle life’s challenges (big and small), accepting new circumstances, and realizing that taking a break doesn’t mean that I’m a failure. Success is continuing to care about other people while remembering that sometimes I need to put myself (or at least my health) first. Success is also remembering to keep a sense of humor during the crazy time that other people may consider “intense” (even if that involves making fun of myself and my circumstances from time to time).
Oh, and one of these days success will entail figuring out how to categorize posts from the “New Post” screen rather than having to categorize them after the fact or going to “Add New” under the posts menu.
(Seriously, you would think I would be better at this by now. Then again, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized you couldn’t make collages on instagram.)