“You would probably have lots of money, or be the leader of a big company and stuff, ” said Sylvia Jacob, age 7, when asked to define success.
I was charmed by her innocence and by the childishness found in the way she shrugged, smiled and blushed – but her words frightened me. I was uncomfortable with her immediate association of success with money. But most of all I was pained by the destructive definition of success that had already been planted inside of her, spilling from her lips.
During our childhood, our goals and perspectives are derived and formulated from the popular, most prominent views of society. Just as society has told us who to be, and how to be it, it has also decided what is and what isn’t considered to be successful.
From a young age, we are spoonfed a singular definition of success as solely the attainment of popularity or profit. We have equated the ideal image of success with the abundance of wealth, fame, and power. The effects of this false portrayal of success may not be apparent on a young minds. However, we shouldn’t underestimate its influence.
Adolescence, is not merely a period in which a young person develops from a child into an adult. It is a time where an individual begins to form a personality, experiences downfall and success, and ultimately decides what they want to do in the future. It is also a time when this predisposed definition of success from our childhood comes to haunt us.
As high school students began to consider and recognize their interests, it becomes difficult to carry them out or confidently embrace them. When students began to align themselves with jobs or careers that may not fall under the normal definition of success, yet still cater deeply to their interests – there is conflict. This popular, single-minded definition of success discourages passion, perseverance, and the ability of our future generation to be true to themselves.
“Success isn’t only in a financial context,” said Deborah Kang, a student at University of St. Augustine Health Services. “The idea that it is, really hinders the capability of students who are struggling to validate the value of their interests.”
The struggle with such a narrow definition of success carries into adulthood. However, with broader exposure and interaction with the world, many eventually find what they are good at and learn to take pride in the success that comes with it. As an adult, communication with those from all walks of life increase. We are able to appreciate how greatly successes that may be out of the norm, contribute to our society and make our world the versatile place it is today. But should this awareness and appreciation have to wait until adulthood?
People from different backgrounds, fields of work, and experiences all learn to define their own success in their own way. Regardless of the amount the money they are making or the fame that comes with it – when we look at the hard work of the different types of people in our world today we see no numerical value or class status, that could compare to the success and impact an individual has when they are able to completely, and passionately do what they are called to do. The pride one feels in their job, regardless of paycheck or form shows us that there are not different levels of success – there are different natures.
If we continue to teach our kids that there is only one definition of success, we are throwing away what makes our country great – work, passion and effort of all kinds.
Teaching kids that there is only a singular definition of success is setting them up for failure. Failing to recognize that success comes in many forms, devalues the great things that make this world great and make us who we are.
So, I will not conclude with a definition of success. Because my definition is different than yours. But I will say that success is not solely defined as an abundance of dollar bills. What it is, however, is that tingle of excitement about what you do, sticking with what matters through hard times and living a life you can feel proud of in retrospect. Success is who you are and what you make of it.
Never let anyone tell you any different.