Before you can begin to achieve success during your college life, you must first define it. And you can do this through establishing what ‘success’ means to you personally. Everyone’s idea of success depends on personal goals, purposes and what they want out of their future accomplishments. Sometimes, in order to know what you want, you first have to fail or experience some sort of trial and error. You have to first know what you don’t want.
When I first came to college I had absolutely no clue what success and failure meant to me.
My quest for success began the moment I watched my parents drive away and leave me at the University of Iowa for my freshman year. Interestingly enough, I didn’t even know it yet. Although I achieved many subconscious goals, looking back I wouldn’t have necessarily defined my actions as ‘success.’ At this point in my life I seemed to believe in only the academic vision of success, a similar perspective I owned in high school.
Then I started to experience more. The first party I went to at college didn’t fit into my view of success and neither did the first bar. I felt a true selfless kind of love for the first time and I witnessed my roommate pull a minute and a half keg stand for her first time. Even those didn’t make the cut of my previous definition.
Subconsciously though, I did view the simple and seemingly insignificant experiences as ‘success.’ But these were not things I would tell people aloud (or even to myself) when they asked what I achieved in college so far. I told them about the A’s I got on my papers, about the late nights spent studying at the library and even complained when I saw others achieving ‘more’ or ‘better’ than me. I didn’t, however, include my first walk around campus as an enrolled student and future alumni for the first time. I didn’t include my first time experiencing dormitory food or about how I walked about two miles each day navigating my way around the school. And instead of viewing my first job as a hostess as ‘success,’ I viewed this experience as a tragedy since it took me two months to receive my first paycheck.
I experienced all these firsts which taught me many hard truths about adulting and life. Every person I met, every time I went out, each time I went to class, I learned something. If I was learning then I was achieving.
Noticing these little things helped me realize the things I still wanted to achieve. I started considering all the things I missed or wanted more of—like making more friends, finding a mentorship and getting involved in a club or organization on campus. Later I focused on the more subtle goals such as finding the courage to say hello to my neighbor or classmate, seeking more help from my professors and visiting my academic advisor to better plan my college career. I also included remembering to call home more often.
As summer approached the end of my sophomore year, everything changed. With half of my undergraduate experience over, I could only think about the ticking clock as if it were a time bomb waiting to explode my future life. This paranoia led me to a dream in which I was walking down the stage during graduation and all I received in the end was a diploma.
Don’t get me wrong, I worked hard for it, but this wasn’t all I wanted to show for my experience. I wanted memories (or blackouts) of me trashed walking home from a serious night of bar-hopping or a photograph of me cheering on my fellow Hawkeyes at a football game with my face covered in sweat and war paint.
I had an epiphany that took me 20 years to figure out. I discovered that success for me personally, was about my experiences, whether good or bad, it was about learning and growing from them. It’s about how I choose to live my life and what I make out of it. It’s not what I do at school but rather the things I did during school that will define my college success story.
College isn’t meant to revolve solely around the schooling, it’s about spreading your wings and flying out of the nest you’ve become so comfortable in. Most importantly, it’s about waking up every morning with a smile on your face because you’re happy where you are at.
After setting goals and realizing what I would like my future accomplishments to be (beyond the diploma), the quest for ultimate success began. This summer I’ve been making big strides and I’ve noticed how ambitious I have become. I got my first internship writing for an online magazine. I connected and worked online with a bright young lady who I am proud to call my mentor. I practiced writing, editing and social media marketing online. I got my first house and my first dog. I invited over a co-worker to hangout for the first time. I rekindled an old flame with a childhood friend. I sent out emails to a bunch of clubs and organizations I would like to join in anticipation of the new school year. And I no longer believe college success should be defined by every mere ‘A’ or ‘F’ on an exam.
I still don’t know exactly how my college success story will go, but if I consider the path I’m on now, I would say I am more than halfway there. But even with being one step ahead of the game I still have a long journey ahead of me.