By: Traci Hogan, Ziarre Walker, & Jade Robinson
The world we live in constantly reminds us that success is the ultimate goal, it’s what we strive for. The expectation of success can be overwhelming, and many of us feel the pressures of being successful. This is especially true for students and younger generations. As some of the voices of this generation, we share the pressures of being successful. We share the wonders of the future. We share with you our thoughts and feelings.
“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.” — Oprah Winfrey
As a college student who will be graduating this year, the words “success” and “failure” are constantly running through my head. Every day I wake up with anxiety. I wake up with the realization that my life is reality, I’m here truly living it. This anxiety comes from the pressures of being successful and what my future looks like.
This anxiety that I developed did not start when I began college. I believe this feeling has been building up in me for years. That moment in second grade I got a piece of paper telling me that I was “gifted” began it all. When I was first labeled this as a child, it gave me some sort of pride. I didn’t feel better than everyone, but I felt better about myself. I felt somewhat important. It was a compliment to me. I was motivated to keep that title. That meant I would have to work extra hard and keep my grades up. It set the standard for my performance in school. I wanted to do well regardless, but it brought me to another light. I wanted to stay the “smart kid”, I wanted to be “gifted”, and I wanted to be special. Over time, I was an overachiever. I earned all As every year, high test scores, and other academic accomplishments. To this day, I set high standards for myself in every aspect. However, never would I know at the time that the word would do harm to me later on. It isn’t the word itself, but the meaning and action behind it.
Not only did I have high standards for myself, everyone else did too. My teachers, parents, and even my peers expected me to be “the cream of the crop”. I realize that this was problematic. You may wonder, what’s wrong with people expecting the best out of you? Isn’t it a good thing if the people who surround you think highly of you? These questions may sound like straightforward answers, but in reality, they are hard to answer. In reality, when people hold you to a certain standard, they will always expect you to hold that standard. In other words, when you’re “gifted”, failure isn’t part of your vocabulary. You can’t fail. I would remember as a kid getting a C on a test, and everyone was so surprised. I remember them surrounding me and asking if I got a C before (I did). At the moment I felt ashamed of myself that I didn’t exceed. There were many events of this nature that happened throughout my life. I even remember literally crying as I emailed a teacher at the end of a semester thinking I was going to get a B plus in her class. I did end up getting an A, but getting worked up over that should’ve been an early sign of my fear. My fear of failure.
I think it’s safe to say that most people want to succeed. No one, no matter if they want to admit it, likes to fail. Failure has the connotation in society that we lack value or contribution to the world. Fear of failure is a common problem among gifted adults. When I wake up with this anxiety I described before, I’m thinking what have I done? What have I done to prove my value to the world? Am I really as successful as people say, or am I a failure? This has been my struggle so far, feeling like a failure. I fear I will be a failure in my career, my relationships, my goals, everything. However, I have to constantly remind myself of all the accomplishments I made. I never give up. How can someone truly fail if they keep trying? You may fail today, tomorrow, for ten years. When you are met with adversity and may fail the first time, you can keep going. You build yourself up, and never look back, always pushing forward. Don’t let the pressures of success and the worries of the future consume you. Don’t fear failure, fight it.
We all have goals in life. As long as there is still air in our lungs, we as individuals will always construct the necessary plans in order to achieve those goals. Even for those who are retired or those who may have accomplished everything they set out to accomplish, they still have goals for whatever they may want to pursue next. Personally, I have never heard of nor met anyone who sat idly by and let life take them from one place to another with no real purpose as if they were lost at sea. These goals that we set in place are goals that are meant to help us be successful in whatever it is that we seek to accomplish, but with this, problems may come. Life can be unpredictable and throw wrenches in the plan we devised which makes planning for life in the future that much more difficult. This could cause us to become discouraged. What we have to understand is that more often than not everything will not go according to plan but we have to keep going if we want to be “successful”.
“Success” is such a dangerous word because due to societal standards it is usually only valued monetarily. We see it every time we scroll through social media. Someone is showing off their new apartment that is filled with nice furniture capped off by a closet full of nice clothes and shoes. What we have to understand is that you and this person are at two different points in your lives. This person did not show you how hard it was or how long it took for them to move into that apartment. They did not show how long it took to fill it with the nice furniture and clothing, they only showed you the finished product. I say all of this to say: success is fluid. Your definition of success will not be the same as the next person and this is okay. When you feel successful is when you are successful. Do not rely on something as shallow as social media to determine if you are successful or not.
Being a college student and doing what I think is best in order to be successful has almost run me dry. I’ve changed my major 3 times in order to set myself up for what I thought was “success” only to realize that I should do what simply makes me happy. We set ourselves up for failure when we allow others to shape how we feel about our own life and accomplishments. I came into college wanting to be a sports agent because I love sports and I thought that this was an easy way to make a solid income. I soon came to realize that I had no real care to be someone’s agent when I was sitting in class with people who did not relate to me in any way, shape, or form. Soon I was able to understand that conducting interviews and writing was something I really loved to do. As I began to conduct interviews for in-class assignments I was told more often than not that I was good at it and this allowed me to realize my passion. Maybe my passion does not come with all of the glitz and glamor that a sports agent may come with but it is something I genuinely enjoy. I hope that all people will soon come to develop this same mindset which will allow us to slowly widdle away society’s standards of success.
What is success? How do you define success? The only way to achieve success is by going to school, getting an education, and making something of yourself. What steps does one take in order to be “successful”? These are questions that many of us ask others and ourselves every day. In my opinion, not only are we given the pressure to succeed through social media, but also through family and friends. In today’s society, having accomplished certain achievements by a certain age can add to the pressures of what one believes is “success”. Although times have changed and society and technology have progressed, finding high-earning jobs or kick-starting one’s career can still be quite difficult. The influence of social media and family members gives people the false narrative that working hard is the sole ingredient needed for success. One example is an interview with Kim Kardashian. She states how people [women] aren’t successful because they don’t want to “get their ass up and work,” (Variety Fair, 2022 March 9) Another example is a quote from Estée Lauder: “I never dreamed about success. I worked for it.” While these celebrities may have worked hard to get to where they are, many do not have access to unlimited amounts of funds such as the Kardashians or others. Several celebrities often have a head start on becoming wealthy and successful because they come from even more wealthy and successful families. On social media we also see influencers quitting their jobs to follow their dreams to become successful. You also have family members mentioning how when they were a certain age they were already homeowners or started developing a business of their own. These play a major role in giving viewers and followers the false narrative of how “it’s easy” or “if I did it, so can you”. While that may be true for some, others might not have the same opportunities.
Seeing social media influencers, celebrities or hearing family members say “just find a job” or “hard work pays off” adds more stress to those who are trying and experiencing nothing but “failure” when trying to succeed. From my perspective, I feel as if it is harder to achieve specific goals due to many jobs requiring a lot from applicants for entry-level positions. I recently graduated from graduate school with my Master’s in Asian Studies. This May, I will have been out of school for a year and I have yet to find a job in my field due to the many requirements needed for an entry-level position. I mention this because although I have my degree, many jobs that involve Asian Studies that are entry-level are not interested in hiring me due to my lack of experience. But how can I get the experience without being given the opportunity? I say this because many people are often “successful” because they are given the opportunity. Unlike celebrities or those who come from wealthy families, many people have to work twice as hard to just survive, let alone strive to become “successful” enough to where they live comfortably. I guess it really is who you know and not what you know.
We should not allow others to create our personal definition of success. When you strive for something, do it for yourself. Too often we let society shape how we feel about certain things but when it comes to something as critical as “success”, you should do your best to not fear failure and go for what makes you happy. You have to try to put your blinders on and not pay attention to others’ “success” as it could have been handed to them. Do your best to understand that success is fluid and that no one will ever be able to present it to you in any real shape or form. The pressure of being successful can be overwhelming but so can the fear of failure. What we have to understand is that we will face adversity many times throughout our life but we have to pick ourselves up and continue to move forward.