What defines success? Is it getting the best grades, getting into the best university? Is it graduating and getting a stable job with a high salary? Oftentimes, it feels like the only way to really be seen as someone who has succeeded in life is to just get that degree, bend over backwards to get that certificate of acknowledgment so you know for sure you’ve made it. As if everything you’ve ever accomplished is void if you don’t get that tiny piece of paper – as if your entire future depends on it.
I think we’ve been conditioned to think that higher education is the only way you can truly succeed, and there is no other path you can take. While it’s true that getting a college degree gives you a distinct advantage in forming your career, I feel like it’s not the end all be all of success. There are so many options to choose from, and there is no true definition for success. This is especially true for our generation, one that spent a good chunk of our youth stuck inside and witnessed the economic crisis, the instability that affected nearly every job.
For instance, previously, people who quit their jobs because they wanted to pursue content creation were looked down upon. People called it a pipe dream, saying they took the easy way out. Yet these people were the same people who uplifted and brought comfort to millions while the whole world was in isolation. They brought people together in a way that was inspiring, through shared passions, shared beliefs and interests. They reminded people they weren’t alone. This may be why there’s been a surge in new or aspiring content creators in the past two years. People are starting to realise this is something they can do. Nothing is set in stone, chasing your dream no longer means setting yourself up for failure.
That’s the thing about success. All my life, it’s been drilled into my head to believe that once I graduate and get a job, I can settle down and relax. That’s when I’ve got myself set for life, and I can finally kick my feet up and enjoy the ride. But what if that’s not what I want? What if I shake a hand and take a picture then tuck my certificate in the back of a shelf to collect dust? Or worse – what if I get my degree and nothing changes? Maybe I’ll graduate and that sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that everyone seems to crave doesn’t come. Maybe I’d have worked myself to the bone just to get a job I dread going to. I’d have wasted my time and my money just to be seen as someone “successful”, so focused on pleasing everyone else that I ended up miserable.
Which is why, to me, it is more important to look inwards rather than outwards when it comes to one’s future. Your future is yours, so own it. Don’t make it something that revolves around pleasing others, do it because it’s what you want, what you need to accomplish your goals. Everyone is different. If you think that college is what is needed to help you achieve your dreams, then go for it. But never let anyone tell you that it’s the only way. There’s always another path you can take. Start that business. Paint that picture. Take up photography. If you are truly passionate about it, and believe it’s what you’re meant to do, trust yourself to carry it through.
In this day and age, I feel like pursuing a higher education has become ingrained in toxic competition and comparing oneself rather than actually learning new things or expanding to new horizons. The systems in universities where students are constantly pitted against each other result in them being made to think that the main goal is to overtake one person after another and come out on top. It’s not passion-driven or based on self improvement, it’s about being the best for all the reverence and benefit that comes with it. Being able to further your studies is an amazing privilege and an opportunity that not everyone has, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for you. That’s for you to know, and you to decide.
I strongly believe that God has a detailed plan for each and every one of us, and that we all have different paths to take in order to serve our purpose. There is no one true way to succeed, and just because someone does things a certain way, it doesn’t guarantee their success or contentment. Everyone has a choice to make, and what we need to ask ourselves is: Is this something you can imagine yourself doing 10, 20 years down the line? What are your true motivations behind choosing this path? Once you discover more about what it is that you truly want, and where your passions lie, you’ll be on the right track to deciding which path is the best for you. After all, in the end, the best future and the most gratifying success is one where you are happy.
Arielle K, 17, hails from Sabah and is currently pursuing her A-Levels as she figures out what comes next. In her free time, she enjoys reading and is a diehard fan of K-Pop band Enhypen.