How I redefined success in college

The issue with how society defines success and what you can do to create your own definition

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Caroline teaching an outdoor yoga class to friends in college 

As I begin my senior year and look back at the past three years, I see that there is an issue with how our culture defines success. My relationship with the term success has evolved since beginning college. I came into college feeling successful because I graduated from a highly regarded prep school and was admitted to a prestigious college. As the years went by I realized that equating success with titles, money, and popularity was unfulfilling. I recognized there was a larger societal epidemic at work: An obsession with external validation in the form of stereotypical successes. In the dictionary success is defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose, the attainment of popularity or profit, a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity”.

This definition emphasizes popularity and profit. Unfortunately society has taken this definition at face value. Our culture has become preoccupied with individual success to the point where I believe our society is making a dangerous shift away from positive interdependence, “an element of cooperative and collaborative learning where members of a group who share common goals perceive that working together is individually and collectively beneficial, and success depends on the participation of all the members”. It is important to not let competition get in the way of our ability to share with and help others. 

Throughout my time in college I have watched as society rewards us for “successes” such as landing a high paying job, looking perfect on Instagram, and having a 4.0. I see little recognition for working to improve your emotional health, relationships, or self-confidence, all factors that affect how you treat others. In a world that is increasingly volatile and divided, why aren’t we celebrating the ability to have strong relationships with others and ourselves as a success? Through placing emphasis on superficial success, higher education is missing a critical opportunity to foster empathetic individuals i.e., successful individuals. 

If colleges neglect to recognize interpersonal skills, mindfulness practices, and cultivating empathy as successes, young adults will continue to perpetuate a skewed vision of success, one that is too focused on external validation. It is now more important than ever to expand the conversation around success. Yes, success can mean your high paying job, but what about how successful you are at loving yourself and collaborating with others?

You may be wondering how I have worked to redefine success in my own life while at college. During a high-stress time when seniors feel pressure to find jobs and figure out what they are doing next, it is critical to keep things in perspective. I make sure to focus on my internal successes just as much as I do my external successes. For me, finding time in the day to meditate or do yoga is a personal success. I consciously remind myself that external rewards such as good grades and high-powered jobs are societies definition of success but they do not need to be mine.

My evolving definition of success: The ability to know and care for oneself through self-love and self-reflection so that one can be an engaged, empathetic citizen in the world and thus positively impact society.

How I find success in college:

1. Take a few moments out of every day to be silent and breathe

2. Teach yoga once a week and practice on my own

3. Discuss the importance of self-care at college with my peers

4. Remind myself that happiness = success!

It can be difficult to feel successful if others are not validating your actions and therefore it is important to create your own definition of success and congratulate yourself for your efforts. We are all accustomed to pleasing others and therefore the ability to recognize the shortcomings of societies definition of success is the first step!

What can you do to create your own definition of success?

1. Notice moments when you feel alive and happy, maybe you are going for a run or taking time to do something you love. These are moments of success!

2. Consciously recognize how others define success and how this may be different from what you think is successful.

3. Find balance between external rewards and internal rewards. See if you can feel just as good about making time to care for yourself as you do receiving an excellent grade on a test. 

A shift in mindset starts with daily practice. Short meditations clear my head and remind me of how I define success in my own life. Whether you create a mantra to read when you wake up in the morning or have a bed time ritual, taking time to listen to your inner voice will help you stay clear on what success means to you. 

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