Next month marks the passing of a year since I graduated from college.
Introspection has always been a big part of my nature, constantly assessing how I’m progressing, sometimes regressing, always aiming for more of the former. But this strange benchmark seems to be forcing me into even further self-analysis. While I have a wandering spirit, I’m not aimless. I may not know exactly what I want, but I’m not void of that part of human nature that yearns for touchstones.
And for the first time in my life, I can’t measure my success by my GPA or another tick mark on my lifelong tally of semesters completed. The close of another school year always meant we could say with certainty that we achieved something. We were one step closer to that seemingly far-off goal of entering the real world. But no one really told us how we were supposed to measure success once we actually entered it. Sure, there are those daunting social constructs like find a career, get married, get promoted, have babies. Boxes to check that are meant to say, ‘hey, look at me achieving things!’ But most of us quickly find out that it’s not that easy. And as generations get more progressive, fewer and fewer people are interested in living a life that adheres to that paradigm.
So we’re left with what might be one of the biggest personal responsibilities of all; determining what a successful life looks like to you as an individual.
My lifestyle has drastically changed since my senior year of college. I was enrolled in seven classes (two just for fun,) working in a restaurant 40 hours a week and interning every other day at a renowned Hearst publication all while entertaining a booming social calendar. For a lack of a better term, I was slaying.
Fast forward to the present and my days go a little something like this: Alarm goes off for a cool noon wake-up time. After laying around for a while, idly swiping off my back-up alarms (because sometimes noon is just too rough), I’ll open up my large, Italian style windows and crawl back into my nest to skim the news and read a few chapters of whatever book is currently gripping me. I then convince myself to lazily roll out of bed onto my plush, yellow area rug for a quick workout routine before hopping in the shower and picking out my pretty dress for the day. Then it’s time to head to the office to get some writing done. Or, you know, the outdoor café downstairs with an owner who, upon seeing me, pours a prosecco. Once the church bells of the Palazzo Vecchio boom four, I head over to pick up a four year old little boy who truly believes I’m a fairy. We play superheroes for a couple hours and then I put my headphones in, blast my album of the week and walk over to meet friends for dinner or to play a little live music.
I suppose to some, it looks like I’ve taken a few steps back. I make far less money. My apartment isn’t nearly as nice. I no longer work for internationally renowned companies. I’m a wannabe writer and part time babysitter and some months I can barely afford my laughably low rent. But here’s the little secret they hope we never find out… success doesn’t have to look like a buttoned-up version of you climbing the ladder.
If I hadn’t convinced myself of that, I might be on the brink of one of those ‘what am I doing with my life’ meltdowns that twenty-somethings are so prone to (and I’ve already had 17 of.) But I’m figuring out that my idea of success might be very different from yours or your mother’s or my brother’s, but that doesn’t mean any of us have got it wrong.
If you weren’t trained to see success in any particular way, if you could forget everything anyone’s ever told you about it, what would it look like to you?
For me it’s finding a few cool people who want to publish my writing and send me some small checks for it. It’s getting to say, Damn! I’m a published writer! It’s feeling validated in my career choice and also feeling like a total badass because of it. It’s recognizing things in myself like an intense desire to avoid stagnation. And more importantly, it’s not accusing myself of being flighty, indecisive or immature, but choosing instead to see myself as a fearless adventurer. An independent soul determined to find myself in all the places I’ve dreamed of. It’s smiling when I realize I don’t care about not having any money for a new spring wardrobe because I no longer idolize material things the way I used to. (Plus, I’d rather save the money for plane fare.) It’s, after truly enjoying a year of not dating, planning a solo, three month backpacking trip because with much hard work, I’ve come to love spending time alone with me.
I guess what I’m trying to say in some long winded, self involved way is that success is whatever you want it to be. Celebrate the small victories and pat yourself on the back for coming to that vital self-realization. Those seemingly small things are what lay the foundation for your happiness. Appreciating your accomplishments, no matter the size or what they look like in the eyes of others, means relieving yourself of those social pressures. By renouncing someone else’s idea of success you empower yourself to create your own. You can establish a version of yourself that you like best because the successes that you revel in are significant to you. And when you unabashedly start living your life by your standards ….kids, that’s when you’ve made it.