My family and friends have looked at me and thought of me as a failure recently. I haven’t been doing great in school, and I don’t have any job prospects or any idea of what I want my future to look like. For all intents and purposes I am a failure. How do I combat failing in my life and the people that only make me feel worse?
When I first read your letter I thought, “Tell them to go to hell.” But that isn’t a good way to stave off enemies or keep friends. I wish I could walk with you around the Oval on a bright, sunny day. Maybe we’d have coffee or tea in hand, maybe not. I’d ask about your story, how you got to this very moment.
Tell me about your likes, dislikes, family and friends. I want to hear more than just the facts, though. What makes you you? What makes your heart beat fast? I want to see not what others count as ‘success’ or ‘failures,’ but rather what reaches beyond the benchmarks of this competitive college game we all seem to be playing. What is laced into your DNA that makes your eyes sparkle when you talk about it? What do you hold dear that isn’t quantifiable, can’t be typed up on your resume?
Because those are the things that matter. Those qualities and dreams and wishes and successes, and furthermore, how you choose to chase those things are what build your character.
I would challenge you to look beyond the quantifiable means of success and failure. Ease into the skin you’ve been born into and draw from within that strength you have buried deep in your character. Some might tell you to shift your perspective to view failure as opportunity, but I call b******* on that one. I’ve been where you’ve been, if it’s any consolation. I let the “failures” pile up on top of me, one rejection email at a time. It bore down onto my shoulders for a year until I broke and internalized other people’s expectations of myself. Do you want to know the secret to how it ends when you live by other people’s expectations of your life? You never measure up.
Albert Einstein once said to “strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value,” and I would tell you to make this your goal. Build on what makes you valuable to those around you, to this community, and to CSU at large. Never let other people define you and don’t let them dictate your path because it’s your path to forge, not theirs. They have their own lives to figure out. But you, dear you, get this one crazy beautiful life to live and this one moment to make something, to change someone, to go somewhere. Keep living and going, chasing those goals and dreams you have. Keep doing what makes your heart beat fast because it matters, and push through the limits people put on you. If you do this, you will succeed. Perhaps it won’t be measured in money or grades or awards, but it will be inextricably bound to your heart and will mold your purpose.
As for getting your friends and family to see your work as success, my guess is that if you live by your own standards, paving your own path, they will eventually notice it. If they don’t, are they worth your time and energy, especially if all they are offering is negative input?
Know that your value is rooted not in your resume or other people’s expectations. Your value and ultimate “success” comes from within, and how you choose to leave your mark on this old rugged world.