The Gustavian Weekly

Redefining success in college | The Gustavian Weekly

By Madelyn Smerillo - Opinion Columnist | March 6, 2020 | Opinion

In my senior year of high school, I submitted college applications to a handful of schools I was interested in. I filled out many forms with my name, birthdate and GPA. I wrote pages about the things I was involved in and how they had changed me, my aspirations for the future and a 500-600 word personal essay, which served to wrap up my college apps as the metaphorical bow on top.
I wrote my personal essay about the concept of success, something that has been on my mind a lot recently. As a Junior who is planning to graduate next December, I’ve begun thinking much more about life after Gustavus. My search for a summer job has become considerably less simple, as I feel pressure to do something relevant to my field rather than just picking up shifts at a summer camp or the local grocery store.
With my eyes on the future, my stress levels have heightened. In what ways can I set myself up for success? What is the next step and is it going to be the best choice for my future? Am I going to be in student debt for the rest of my life? All of these worries run through my mind on a daily basis, making me feel less and less prepared for the reality coming my way in just under two semesters.
I have found myself looking for someone to tell me I don’t need to worry, that everything is going to be okay. Frankly, that’s hard to find among college students who are just as stressed as I am. Many people around me are dealing with a lot of the same pressures- they worry daily about finances and the future of their careers; comforting each other about it doesn’t come in many other forms that knowing we aren’t alone in our panic. However, a few days ago, I found myself thinking back to where my journey to Gustavus started, which brings me back to that personal essay I mentioned.

Three years ago, I seemed to have it figured out that your merit as a person is not ultimately defined by the amount of money you make or the length of the list of credentials on your CV; instead, I had come to the realization that success is rather defined by your happiness and the contributions you make to your world.

I don’t know where my focus on this ultimate goal went, but it definitely disappeared.
I believe that the reason I have lost sight of this knowledge about success is due to the nature of the workplace around us; everything is about the next step and how we are going to propel ourselves forward, moving on constantly to bigger and better things, to more money. We seek new connections in hopes of finding someone who can help us get a high-paying job. We join clubs and take leadership positions because they look good on a resume. Where does this all end? At what point do we stop doing things for other people and begin living for ourselves and the people we love?
We cannot measure our lives in this way; if we do, what kind of legacy do we leave for those who come after us? Surely not one of true enjoyment. If we pursue money instead of happiness, fame instead of joy, or power instead of love, do we genuinely succeed? I believe the answer is no. As an alternative, I would encourage all of us to enjoy this critical stage in our lives. We grow more and more into ourselves every day, being shaped by the people around us and our own individual experience. I challenge you to work every day to be more like who you are- not who others tell you to be. If that means that you end up passionately working for a less than ideal salary, that is okay. You are doing what you love and making a difference- that is what I believe to be the true definition of success.
So I remind you in my own words from the fall of 2016, that even amidst the throws of post-college anticipation and the constant search for the next great thing, “true success is not solely measured by wealth, but is measured by what [you] do and the positive impacts of those actions. You need only work your hardest and enjoy your occupation in order to be happy, as success does not need to be defined by wealth or the opinions of others, but rather by the achievement of your true aspirations and your contributions to the good of the world in which you live.”

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