What Counts as Success?


As someone who grew up as a major academic overachiever, graduating was really tough for me. School was comfortable, familiar, easy to navigate. They expect clear things from you, you know? I realize that school is a terrible experience for many people, but for me it was satisfying and doable to do precisely the tasks that teachers and institutions wanted me to do, and to do those things very, very well. And when you’re good at school, it’s easy to tie that quality to your identity. With grades and progress reports, you can get concrete data to indicate whether or not you’re succeeding, and it can be extremely reassuring. If you’re doing okay in school, you’re doing okay in life.

Life post-graduation isn’t anything like that. It’s up to you to take initiative, to figure out what you want to do and what you need to do to both make rent and not burn out. And there’s no metric for figuring out whether you’re doing a good job with that. You don’t get progress reports regarding your whole life situation. (Side note – I guarantee if some Silicon Valley type made an app that just repeatedly gave you messages saying, “I checked the data, no worries, you’re fine,” they would make enough money to fill a Scrooge McDuck money pool.)

You inevitably end up using other people as your metric. Are you making as much money as other people? Facebook says your peers are working on some cool projects right now. What are you working on? All your friends look really happy on Instagram. How are they doing that?

But here’s the thing: success is actually only about making yourself happy and not hurting others. You don’t need to worry about the metrics. You don’t need to worry about whether you’re doing as well as your peers, or whether your job title is impressive enough, or whether you’re doing enough to impress your old teachers and your family. You don’t need to be top of the class anymore, because they aren’t handing out grades. The only person you need to please is yourself. So you can decide what you’d like to do, and how hard you’d like to work, and whether you even want a promotion at work. Success is what you want it to be.

Photo by Adrien Robert on Unsplash