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There's no way to measure success and no reason to try.

There’s a specific timeline young adults are supposed to adhere to. It’s strict and unforgiving, and it rarely emphasizes individual happiness. The recipe for success in the U.S. is simple and deeply ingrained. 

Children are supposed to do well in school, apply to college and enter the workforce. Three small steps that many are forced to make. This linear timeline is an outline for a supposed well-educated, well-rounded workforce that's begun to alienate recent generations. 

Teenagers are pressured into higher education for the promise of financial security post-graduation. According to a study conducted at Georgetown University, “35 percent of the job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree and 30 percent of the job openings will require some college or an associate’s degree.” 

Even though a growing number of jobs are requiring some degree of higher education, many college graduates are finding themselves more financially vulnerable. Saddled with student debt, a changing job market and multiple economic crises, young adults feel pressured and hopeless. 

College may be the right path for some, but other avenues of success should be celebrated and encouraged. 

Attending a trade school or an apprenticeship are both viable options for students graduating high school. Taking a year off to travel and explore the world is just as valid. Immediately entering the workforce isn’t something to look down upon. Success isn't linear, and it's not singularly defined. 

There’s a preconception of what success means: a house or an apartment; a well-paying job; a fulfilling and dynamic social life. These are the comforts and joys to these definitions, but the pressure to be “successful” is a thief to present joy. It’s destroying the ability to celebrate small things.

It’s OK not to be traditionally successful. 

There's no recipe for success. There are infinite indicators of achievement, even if they don’t all align with societal expectations or pressures. Turning 23 without a plan doesn’t mean that life is over. It’s really just the start. 

Staying alive during a pandemic is winning. Baking a really good batch of cookies is a victory. Showing up to an awful job every day is a triumph. There are so many small things that get lost in the clamber and struggle for fulfillment. The small joys add up, and then big obstacles just aren’t so big. 

Everyone has a unique concept of personal success. The tradition of trading these timelines has created a culture of comparison and contradiction. Each story is valid. There is no “right” way to enjoy life. There are too many idiosyncrasies of living and interacting with the world for there to be a universal guide to joy. 

It’s OK to feel lost and alone. That’s part of the human experience too. It’s not a shame to just survive the day. 

Success doesn’t have a timeline. Twenty years on this planet is nothing in the grand scheme of things. According to the CDC, the average U.S. lifespan is 78.6 years. Somewhere in that timeframe, success does happen. It just doesn’t always seem that way. 

Summer Conley is a junior public policy and administration major. Contact Summer at conleysr@dukes.jmu.edu.