We live in a world where achievement defines us, not our character, generosity, passions or dreams. And that “achievement” is defined as money, fame or power. Society continually defines success for individuals at every age, erasing our unadulterated aspirations. The media paints the picture of a successful individual with their top lists of industry leaders, highest paying jobs, and most likely to succeed with this type of major in college. Most recently, publications have attempted to rank colleges differently with evaluating top colleges being institutions where students are more likely to result in a higher income…While the intention to move away from school prestige to a more practical ROI on education is thoughtful, this creates an even bigger issue of perceiving academic success with the ability to make more money, defining post-college success as income. Why do we try so hard to quantify success?
This is why we have cycles of graduating students wanting to be investment bankers and consultants one year, and engineers and entrepreneurs another year. But do any of them Really want to be those things? Schools react to this phenomenon and start creating programs that encourage more students to pursue these careers, asking alumni to support the school for such initiatives, and hoping to rank top on the list for schools that support careers in the field. And It’s a dirty cycle.
In college, I had started a program called BrightEyes out of my frustration that my school didn’t provide opportunities to easily get my foot in the door with the best companies. I got my first job out of college by impulsively traveling to New York and demanding to meet with executives at companies that I wanted to work for, and sneaking into USC’s recruiting session and pitching myself for the job. Soon after I started the program, I realized it wasn’t about providing career opportunities through BrightEyes, but helping students rediscover their true passions and unleashing and augmenting their inner voices to ask themselves what they truly aspired to do. Success in the program became defined as helping students become self aware and honest with themselves.
I’ve recently read numerous articles on “following your passion is bad advice.” At first, I nodded in agreement and part of me has always believed that those “successful” people say it, but that’s never how they got there. But now I revisit that piece of advice, and I realize there’s more to interpret in what appears to be such a shallow lesson. We can’t take the statement literally, rather we have to understand it to be a metaphor for chasing our curiosities and fearlessly trying new things to discover what makes us happiest – you don’t know what you love until you’ve already experienced it. “Follow your passion” is about happiness. While this may appear obvious and so many also preach happiness as success, few let this drive how they make decisions in life, especially when we are young and vulnerable.
I wish the word Failure didn’t exist. For so long, I’ve feared it and let it influence me. It’s a word that people constantly use incorrectly because, the fact is, it cannot be defined. It is a word that relies on short-lived perception and interpretation. It is not about being fearless of failure either. It is that we do no see failure, we don’t acknowledge it’s existence, because the decisions we make are ours and those are the best decisions we can make. Our experiences shape us, and we always come out stronger than we entered. It’s not failure, but opportunity. You cannot fail when you don’t believe it’s possible.
Let’s reevaluate what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and challenge ourselves to not fear the unknown and rid any possibilities of failure from our decisions. Let’s save future generations from becoming a victim to the existing notions of success and failure.