The Measure of Success

As an unfortunate member of Generation Y, my biggest concern about life, and the choices that I’ve made, are where my choices will take me in the future. It goes without saying that my dreams and my income don’t particularly get along. My dream is to buy a beat up old Victorian house and fix it up, a dream that doesn’t exactly seem feasible with a teacher’s salary. In California, no less.
I have spent more than my fair share of time wondering if I’ve made the right decisions, from my choice of degree, to the paths I have walked with it. And in my musings, I’ve come to the understanding that we live in a world where salary is our only indicator of our success, and by extension, of our individual value.
  I read a comic recently, penned by the incomparable Bill Watterson, that sums up the issue more succinctly than I can. About how we as a society measure our success by the amount of money we earn, by the number of our possessions, and by the value of them. And frankly, it’s difficult to not be discouraged by that blaring misinterpretation of what success is. Generation Y suffers from an affliction I lovingly refer to as “Entitle-itis,” in that we have the expectation that we go to college, graduate, and waltz right into a lucrative career; and then we’re positively flabbergasted when we don’t. To add insult to injury, there are plenty of people in our age group for whom that expectation has been fulfilled – I, for example, have a friend not much older than me who pulls in 180k a year as a software development engineer. Another, who graduated from USC at the age of 17, is the youngest person in history to raise a million dollars in startup funding for her tech company, and is only gaining momentum. And then there’s me. I have a degree in English, the only job I’ve managed to land is teaching part time, and I can barely keep my head above water. It’s easy to determine which ones are considered successful, and which one isn’t.
But here’s an important distinction, often overlooked, which equalizes the three of us. And it took me a while to really understand what that was, once I learned to dissuade my definition of success with the one that is so commonly accepted.
I’m pretty happy with my life. I love my job. My coworkers are great, I have a lot of freedom in which to pursue my other passions, I’m actually using my degree and the skills I had developed while pursuing it. Are there times when I wish for more? Of course there are. But I’m blessed in many ways already. My family, my friends, my prospects are always there – they’ll never go away. I make more per hour than my mother did at my age, and my job offers me experience that can only ever help me. I still get caught up in all of my material wants from time to time, but the trick is learning to disassociate material gain with success. I may not have a house or be able to travel as much as I want to, but no one can really argue that I haven’t accomplished a certain amount of success.
So will I ever fulfill my dream of that fixer upper house? Maybe,  maybe not. I’d rather measure my success by the happiness that I’ve achieved, not the objects I’ve obtained. After all, as the great philosopher Jagger once said, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.”

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