Defining Success: The Battle of Conflicting Desires, By Kayla Howard, Spelman College

Throughout childhood, we are taught that success is subjective and to pursue careers, lifestyles, and relationships that will be fulfilling to us. Young children dream of being princesses, firefighters, and astronauts and have no qualms about anything other than their happiness in that very moment. This wide-eyed understanding of personal ambition is quickly corrupted by the influence of capitalism. 

By the time we reach high school, our teachers and parents alike preach that we have to “do well in school, so we can get a good job and be successful”. Suddenly, the narrative has done a complete 180. We are now being told that our efforts in school have the ability to effect whether we are successful or not, without regard for what we would like to achieve in our own lives. It is a startling shift. Understanding how our own personal definitions of success can coexist with our ability to live a socially acceptable life is a rigid dichotomy we grapple with our entire lives, amplified by the current circumstances of our society.

We are currently in the midst of the social media era, in which our uncensored exposure to each others’ opinions has only intensified the pressure to live a lifestyle that is deemed socially acceptable. We are bombarded with images of influencers and their expensives houses and cars; obvious displays of wealth, that we often misconstrue as a measure of success. Constantly being exposed to a lifestyle that is universally desired, we cannot help but dream of a superfluous lifestyle for ourselves. This begs the question, do we want to be successful or do we want to be believed to successful?

We equate success with an individual’s income, instead of the contentment they experience intrapersonally. Moving forward, we should learn to define our success on our terms and not limit it to materials possessions that are easily visible to the critique of others. 

If money was not a factor, how would you define success?