How Do I Define Success?

The definition of success, in my opinion, is shaped by two main factors: the public school’s rigid standards and your family’s (insert your own adjective) standards. Below, I explain my opinions on these two categories and describe how they have affected my definition of success.

  1. Family Standards
    For most, family is the number one influence to a person’s character and values. Depending on how your parents set goals for you as a child, as well as how they reacted to your achievements plays a huge role in how you define success today.

    Growing up, I was rarely praised for my successes, and always scolded for my failures. I am not saying that this parenting style is wrong, but it definitely shaped the way I define success. Since I was always seeking praise from parents, but felt I always fell short, I was constantly striving to work harder and achieve more. Now before I continue, maybe I should give you some insight into my parents’ educational background, as that may explain why they have the ideas they do. Both my parents have PhDs in agronomy, and were successful soil scientists for the United States Department of Agriculture. They traveled the world, sampling soils, and then wrote these gigantic manuals about whatever agronomists write about. Both of my parents went straight from undergrad to grad school. Furthermore, my mom completed her undergrad in 3 years, while working four jobs, and paid for her higher education all by herself (strikingly similar to my undergrad experience). It’s very clear that my parents were hard working students, that had solid goals for their futures. Growing up around two parents of this academic caliber, along with their parenting styles, translated into a very false perception of success: You are only successful, if you are the best.

  2. Public School’s Standard for Success
    Did you know that you actually spend more hours at school than with your family? This means that schools have a heavy impact on you too! Now take into consideration how many hours a student spends in school a month, then take that times 9 ( how many months are in a school year), and finally take that number times 12 (1st through 12th grade). That number is the amount of time most people have spent in schools, being told they have met/not met a certain standard of excellence deemed so by the public schooling system. In other words, a child’s success for 12 years of their life is heavily dictated by how they perform on those never ending tests in class. What I find mind boggling however, is that schools often preach diversity and to embrace uniqueness, while they simultaneously create guidelines that only work well with a small amount of students. For example, the bar for success is only achievable through a listen and learn method of teaching, and then demonstrating one’s knowledge can only be evidenced through a sit down and answer the questions method.

    Many researchers have validated that every person learns and tests differently. And while the emphasis of their research has been to integrate new techniques for teaching and testing in schools, they lack asserting that a standardized definition of success, ultimately impairs students from feeling successful all together. As a former student myself, I can say that my perception of how successful I was as a person (not a student), was defined by my GPA. If I did not have all As at all times, I did not consider myself successful. I even took that idea a step further and felt I could have done more if I received nothing less than a 100%, which was nearly all of the time! Now, I was lucky, my brain was wired to learn the way that public schools teach. However, there are many students that don’t learn the ‘typical’ way, and their grades reflect that, which at the end of the day, lowers their self image and motivation to succeed. And yet we are still wondering why there are so many high school drop outs.

This brings us back to the question: How do I define success?

As anything, my definition of success has changed along with my age and experiences. To start with, the way my parents reacted to my achievements and failures, also worked in tandem with the message that public schools were telling me: There is only one way to be successful. Therefore, up until about senior year of high school, my self worth and measure of success was dictated by what my parents thought and if I met the Lincoln Public School’s standards. Basically, I was that student in class that cried over a B+, questioned the teacher when I got an answer wrong, and was yelled at when I got a 94% on a math exam that clearly I didn’t study long enough for.

As college neared, my parents established what a life of success looked like for me. It involved continually being at the top of my class in school, obtaining a graduate degree after undergrad, and finding employment in a science field that makes a lot of money. Criteria 1: Check. Criteria 2: In Progress. Criteria 3: FAIL. I started college thinking I might major in biology, and then switched majors to psychology. I finally found my perfect fit, communication studies, which my parents weren’t thrilled about, leading me to believe that I wouldn’t be successful. I was also reminded that money equates to happiness, and so I thought that HR might be a good career path, as it allegedly makes more money. However, working in an office from 9 to 5 just didn’t jive well with me, and now I’m here, working with Vietnamese students. For awhile, it was difficult for me to accept that my parents weren’t 100% satisfied with the career path I decided to take. Ultimately though, I have realized that this life I’m living is my own, and that I only get one chance to live it. Meaning, I am going to live my life as I damn well please.

Presently, I am 21, no longer a student, and living my life independently, with the occasional calls to my mom asking how to do adult tasks (so basically still living dependently, just physically eating, sleeping, and breathing away from home, ha!). I now view success as living in a way that makes you excited to wake up every morning, fueling your passions, and challenging you to grow as an individual, which ultimately leads to this unmistakable, authentic happiness that can only be created by you doing you!

So go out there and be successful people!!!!!

Until next time,
Heather Mei

Featured Image taken from Google’s definition of ‘success’.

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