Redefining the Idea of Success
When I was a kid I wanted to be an author. I imagined myself writing essays, short stories, novels... anything really. I would spend hours at my desk writing about characters I made up or writing about people I already knew. For a brief moment, my childhood best friend and I would write fan-fiction about our favorite band. Looking back on that now it seems silly, but 11-year-old-me was having the time of her life. I was expressing myself in the best way I knew how.
When I was a kid I also wanted to be a marine biologist, a vet, a professional photographer. I always had a hard time picking just one job. I thought that to be successful, I had to pick one thing, and that would be what I did for the rest of my life. But what I was not clued in on as a kid was that most people have no idea what they are doing well into adulthood. I think people just fall into something because they enjoy doing it.
Photography stuck with me well into high school, but writing did not. I had this idea that writing was not going to put food on the table or pay my bills. Besides, why did I think someone would read what I wrote anyways? I ended up taking a photography class and loved it. I already had a film camera before I started the class, but I finally was starting to learn how to use it. The class ended up not going exactly as I planned, and I started to feel the same way about photography as I did writing. Where is this going to lead me? How can I be successful at this?
The common culturally-approved idea of being successful followed me to college. I was not particularly interested in “going away” to college, but I did it anyways. College was an absolute roller coaster for me. I did not feel the sense of belonging I thought I would have. I was not fond of the social scene, the incredible amount of hours spent on a few classes, or the lack of alone time.
I changed my major a total of four times that first semester. I declared Marine Biology, then Business, then English. I thought English would be the one that stuck, because my English class was the only class I enjoyed. I loved being able to write in that setting. But ultimately, I started questioning myself. I will not make any money from this... I should find something else.
I decided to speak with my school’s career services, and they had me take a few tests. My Myers Briggs test indicated I am an INFP and my career test indicated that I may be interested in counseling. This resonated with me because I did enjoy listening to others and helping them overcome whatever they were going through. I changed my major to Sociology. I then proceeded to fail almost all of my classes and moved home after my first semester.
I went to a community college for my second semester where the pace was slower and I could keep up. I did really well there and enjoyed my time. I think it was because it was not all encompassing, it was just a part of what I was doing. I would go to class every day and then leave it behind. I was not living on the campus, so was not constantly thinking about school. After one semester, I transferred again to a four-year college close to home.
This is when my roller coaster did a few loops. I moved into my own place with my boyfriend and a roommate and started paying rent for the first time. I was working six days a week, had a dog, and I was going to school full-time. I never let myself slow down.
Success, to me, meant doing as much as I possibly could. I no longer had personal hobbies. I did not take photographs or write. My hobbies included work and school. I picked Psychology as my major. It’s what I ended up graduating with and, man, it was hard. I am not good at school. Well, maybe I am not good at taking five classes at once. I just do not have the attention span for it, and I am naturally prone to anxiety.
I eventually burned myself to a crisp and had to step back and create a cushion for myself. This included supporting myself with student loans. Even though many students have to do this, this made me feel like a failure and sat on my chest like a rock. Now, I realize this is just what happens. It’s hard to go to school and support yourself with only a part-time job.
I developed severe anxiety. I had the worst years of my life during the last two years of college. I sometimes would be scared to leave my house. I had very little self confidence. I am surprised the people in my life during this time are still with me now. I owe them so much thanks and love.
Although everyday felt like a nightmare, college still provided me with experiences that I am truly grateful for and have influenced my life in amazing ways. An experience that I am so honored to have had was my internship at my college’s sustainability office. I met the most passionate students there. I loved going to the internship every day, and I learned so much about myself and what sustainability means. I started to feel comfortable with myself again in that space. I also am thankful for my school’s counseling services. They helped me cope with my anxiety and allowed me the space to share how I was feeling without judgement. If you are attending college and need help, your school’s counseling services is an excellent place to go. They want nothing but the best for you.
It has been almost a year since I graduated from college. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. My younger self would be surprised that I did not choose a solidified career path, but my younger self would have also questioned why I quit doing the things that I loved. Why did I not allow myself the space I needed to be creative? I could not allow myself the time for anything else besides school and work. To me, that is what equaled success.
Now, success looks different for me. Success is whatever I want it to be that day. I actually cringe at that word because it is so subjective. If my goal was to shower before bed and I did, then I am successful in my books. Since graduating, my anxiety has taken a back seat. I started drawing and painting. It has helped me stay grounded. I am so thankful that my best friend who started painting during the time that we lived together. I may not be where I am now with my art if it were not for her.
I am not saying that I am not grateful for college. College taught me a lot about myself and how I define success. It taught me how much I can handle, what my true interest are and where my values lie. I would not take my time in college back. My degree has supplemented me, but what I learned about myself in college far exceeds my degree.
Recently, I started taking pictures again. The feeling I get when I can capture some of my favorite memories is like no other. I also started writing again. I do these things for the pure joy of doing them. I am content with where I am right now. I spend time with my family and friends, my dog and I spend a majority of my time drawing, writing and taking pictures. It is enough for me right now.
Where is this going to to lead me? How can I be successful at this? I don’t know and I don’t think it matters. I am expressing myself in the best way I know how.
Windrose Magazine is your guide to navigating life in your twenties through a collection of essays, interviews, and advice that will inspire you to chart your own life course, free of comparison.
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