Since this is the first post of my column for 2016, I figured I’d deviate slightly from my usual embarrassing attempt at humor for something a little more thoughtful. (Although maybe that’s even a little more embarrassing?) I’ve been thinking a lot lately about success and life in general, and figured the best way to work around the anxiety would be to write about it.
Now, I should put a disclaimer up front that the “How-To” section of this post is not, in fact, going to be a reiteration of DJ Khaled’s “Keys to Success;” mostly because riding around on jet skis is not applicable to the current local climate. If you’re not too disappointed, then you are more than welcome to continue reading. (If you are too disappointed to continue, here is a YouTube compilation of his best Keys to Success.)
The start of the new semester tends to come with an overwhelming sense of panic for me, mostly in the form of “What am I doing with my life? Am I making the right decisions with my majors? Will I succeed??” etc. This panicky self-doubt is especially prevalent at the beginning of the spring semester, most likely amplified by the start of the new calendar year and the pressure of reinventing oneself for the next 365 days. I always start out winter break with a sense of excitement, and not just from the holidays, but from my accomplishments throughout the previous semester, both academic and extracurricular.
Midway through break I generally make a to-do list of how to keep the momentum from the previous semester going through the next year and beyond. After a month of decompression and idle thoughts, however, my drive for the upcoming year starts to fade and I begin thinking about the “what-ifs.” Last year I briefly thought about what it would be like to be a dietitian. This year it’s the nagging thoughts about how rewarding it would be to be a teacher that have been weighing on my mind as I returned to school three semesters away from graduation and over halfway through two degrees—neither of which in the health or education fields.
This uncertainty happens to everyone, and I think a lot of it stems from the pressure to have your life together and figured out by the time you’re 22-24. (Those who claim to have everything figured out are probably lying and those who actually do probably never sleep.)
It is actually pretty wild when you think about it; between the ages of 18 and 22 we’re expected to go from high schoolers who don’t even know how to begin writing college application essays to adults with a degree, well-paying job, place to live, and a sufficient knowledge of how to properly file taxes. For those who don’t go to college, that rapid time period of self-growth is even dramatically shorter and they’re expected to “have their life together” at a breakneck speed.
There’s a reason Twenty One Pilot’s “Stressed Out” is blowing up (besides it being a kickass track): it’s because the song resonates with anyone and everyone who is stuck in the limbo between childhood and adulthood. “Adulthood” has come to be synonymous with “success” and the tricky thing is that the definition of success is constantly evolving and shifting, becoming increasingly harder to obtain. Our parents’ and grandparents’ definition of success came in the form of Go to College/Get a Job, Make Money, Get Married, Start a Family, Repeat. While that definition is still relevant in today’s world, a new type of success has started to crop up in which the younger generation seems to define success as living life to the fullest: travel, see the world, create, live. From watching and following YouTubers, bloggers, Viners, and Instagram personalities we are more frequently seeing our peers making a killing by creating content, having fun, and simply existing.
Between our parents’ definition of success and the new grab-life-by-the-throat definition of success, there’s no easy way to have either. You either go to college and hopefully come out with a good job, though it’s not really a guarantee, or you try your hardest to make some kind of ripple in vast depths of the internet and hope you luck out with some kind of sponsorship. If you go straight through school and a get job it doesn’t allow time for adventure; if you decide to go straight on an adventure there’s no guarantee of a safety net of a job to fall back on.
There are flaws on either side of the divide and no way to have the best of both; we’re either not succeeding by our parent’s definition or not succeeding by our own.
In the meantime, some of the best characters on television and the ones we identify with the most are the Nick Millers and the Andy Dwyers; those who are in all aspects failing in either category of success and in no way have their life together, yet are still happy and find a way to get by. The effects of being this sort of “limbo generation” means there’s a constant cycle of self-doubt and being stressed out, all while romanticizing optimistic failure we would never concede for ourselves.
So what do we do? We all know there’s no easy answer, and I really wish I had a finite How-to guide to give you guys. However, here are some guidelines I’ve decided to start following myself, and maybe they’ll be helpful to you.
- Stop Comparing Your Life To Young Celebrities.
Maybe this is just something I do, but there seemed to be a dramatic increase in the amount of young people doing incredible things in the past few years. And they’re all so young. You’ve got Zendaya Coleman slaying every red carpet, all while having a successful acting career and graduating high school. Lorde, besides making incredible music, also curated the soundtrack for Mocking Jay pt. 1 all by herself at age 17. Not to mention all the internet famous kids from Vine, Instagram, YouTube etc., who get paid up to $50,000 per ad campaign. YouTuber Zoe Sugg, who goes by Zoella, is a beauty/lifestyle vlogger with nearly 10 million subscribers and a reported net worth of $15 million. She’s 25.
With the people we follow on social media and constantly hear about in the media by all means succeeding by having fun, creating content, and seemingly living life to the fullest, while being between the ages of 16 and 26, it’s really difficult not to look at your own life and think, “What am I doing? Why don’t I just start a YouTube channel?” The fact is that reaching that level of success isn’t necessarily obtainable and takes a lot of work up front; creating content and building a following base can take years to develop. In the end it’s really up to luck.
- Don’t Feel Like You Have To Follow Social Norms.
Go To College/Get A Job, Make Money, Get Married, Have Kids, Repeat. This works for some people, but if it doesn’t work for you, you shouldn’t make yourself miserable forcing it. Find what works for you and put all your energy towards making yourself the best you can be in that field. The old model of success isn’t as relevant as it used to be and the path to success has really diversified over the years. Find the best path for you.
- BE FLEXIBLE.
If your five year plan you made when you were 18 doesn’t work out, don’t immediately panic. Things change, and it isn’t always in your control. Life isn’t some linear path you get to decide, it a constant swirl of roadblocks and tangents and you can’t let it trip you up. Keep focused and keep optimistic, and you’ll be okay.
- Follow Your Happiness.
Similar to #2, at the end of the day (or road, or whichever cliché metaphor you prefer) a lot of money and a big house won’t necessarily make you happy. If that is your happiness, then heck yeah pursue it. But if your idea of happiness is living on a boat in the ocean, painting the marine life and volunteering with children in your spare time, then do it. There’s no sense in wasting your life doing what make you unhappy, because I wholeheartedly believe that real success is finding what makes you irrevocably happy.
- Fake It Until You Make It.
Earlier I said that people who claim to have their life together are probably lying, but honestly if you tell yourself you’ve got it together enough, you might just start to believe it.
Believe in yourself.
That concludes this overly sappy post. Next month will continue the regularly scheduled clumsy attempt at humor, so be sure to check back then.