Academic and professional performance isn’t the only definer of a successful you. We’ve come to a point where we need to evaluate success from a more holistic perspective, especially within the context of education.
“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.”
– Albert Schweitzer
For young people, the term ‘success’ has long been rooted in academic performance. Good grades and a few distinctions sure help to unlock the doors to a successful future. But are we getting a point where the key to unlocking these doors is almost impossible to obtain?
The Pressure Though
The 21st Century is laying out very demanding expectations for young people and students. It’s extremely competition-centred and today’s youngsters feel a lot of pressure to succeed – and succeed fast.
In a world with seemingly endless career choices and opportunities, we’re expected to know exactly what we want to do by the time we finish Matric. We’re expected to have businesses set up and be home-owners by the time we hit 30.
What is Success?
The dictionary defines success as “accomplishing a desired aim or purpose, or attaining prosperity”. Nowhere does it explicitly reference academic performance, money, status, or any of the things we generally think of.
So why are we driving ourselves crazy trying to attain that idea of success? Well, because those things do play their roll. It’s not a bad thing to be top of the class, or get a scholarship, or graduate with a kick-ass career waiting for you. They are great things to aspire to.
However, the reason this success-driven frenzy sometimes backfires is because we become too focused on these performance-based validations. In other words, if we don’t have those things, we doubt our own worth.
Is Today’s ‘Success’ Still Healthy?
Being very successful as a young adult may seem like the ideal situation. It sure is the dream everyone seems to be chasing – the success of an excellent degree, a lucrative career, and the recognition of our peers.
However, while our millennial generation has taken on the task of realizing this dream, we’re also experiencing an increased prevalence of stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
We, the so-called ‘perfectionist generation’ worry about deadlines, paying off student loans, deciding what career is our true calling, and wonder how we’ll get it all together so we don’t disappoint our hard-working Baby Boomer parents. In a 2018 Big Think article, Philip Berry explores certain causes for our obsession to succeed so perfectly,
“Greater competitiveness, a continued focus on individualism, and overbearing and anxious parents may be why. Higher educational demands and the need to find a job that earns a significant salary, also lead to an inflated need for perfection.”
To lessen some of this stress, many students and young professionals even turn to little helpers known as performance enhancers. The 2018 Netflix documentary Take Your Pills explores the use of psychotropic stimulants in the millennial generation, arguing that today’s pressure to perform leads to levels of expectations that may no longer be attainable with our natural human capacity. To cope, we turn to Adderall and Ritalin.
But if the road to success means anxiety, pills, debt… are we chasing the wrong dream? Or are we chasing the right dream but need to slow the hell down? What’s the point of studying our butts off if, by the time we’re at the peak of our kick-ass career, we count down the seconds to a burnout?
Perhaps we should take a step back and rethink what we mean by ‘success,’ particularly for students today.
A life Fulfilled
Success can be anything. And it’s ever-changing, depending on where you are in your life. When I asked some of my millennial friends (from various nationalities and career fields) about what success means to them, answers varied greatly (to my delight) and included:
- Gaining recognition
- Making money
- Cultivating humility
- Having a positive impact on others
- Going to sleep with content
So, if we apply this thought to education, success is clearly more than just academic performance that reflects already-existing knowledge and views. It’s also about whether or not we are able to shape ourselves into the kind of people who are creators, leaders, and inspire others.
True success, you see, is about feeling fulfilled. If, to you, this means getting good grades or making a lot of money, then that is okay. If it means giving back to society, while living a more modest lifestyle, that’s equally okay. What’s not okay is to evaluate someone else’s success based on your own definition of what it means to you.
Remember, success is getting what you want, and rocking it hard. Focus on your success and remember that it has far fewer constraints than society and education claim. Go live a life fulfilled, and you’ll be the most successful you.
To our fellow millennials, remember that it’s okay to achieve success at a slow pace. Countless famous, successful people only achieved their personal success way beyond their 20s and 30s. It’s not always about getting there fast. The important thing is how you get there…and that you do 🙂