Stop Trying To Be Successful

girl looking at water
Jason Blackeye


Success is often the goal of any average individual.

It seems to be the magic word everyone chases, both young and old. It is how society measures a person’s happiness in life and, for some people, it is the very definition of happiness itself.

Often times, however, success is the cause of misery and bitterness. How so, you ask?

It is because we let other people control the meaning of our success.

All my life everyone has told me that there are a specific set of rules to how you determine success. One must always be the best, you see: get top marks in school, win contests, be the teacher’s pet, be awarded or publicly recognized and praised for something, earn a shit-ton of money.

Of course, that is success. But it is not the only type of success.

I can not tell you how many schools I’ve gone to — from my elementary years up to my university years, that have told me explicitly and indirectly that I am not successful, and that I would never be successful. Teachers and school administrators alike shunned me and my fellow classmates, simply because we were not honor students or stereotypically studious students.

Apparently, people assume that once you’re good at studying and memorizing text books, you’re good at everything. It didn’t matter to them that writing and public speaking were my talents and passion. It didn’t matter that a seatmate was skilled in sports, or that a friend was interested in music. We were not privileged enough to be invited or encouraged to join seminars, or workshops, or to run for school office, or whatnot.

All because our grades fell below the letter A. All because we were crap at standardized testing.

Did they give us (those whose God-given gifts were not confined to getting a 10/10 in a pop quiz)  a chance to prove ourselves in other aspects of education and learning? No.

Thus, I grew to be mysteriously bitter and unfulfilled. As an adolescent, nothing I seemed to do was “good enough” or warranted a medal or an award or even simple praise. Now, I realized it was because I let my teachers, my schools, my society, tell me how I should feel happy and satisfied. I allowed their definition of success to dictate my life.

Today, I’m in my twenties. I didn’t graduate cum laude, didn’t top a national board exam, didn’t achieve anything particularly significant. Heck, I even graduated and found a job super late compared to others in my class.

My list of accomplishments can be summed up in my meagre, commonplace writing.

That may not be what successful means for you, or for most people. But I found happiness in writing for the pleasure of myself while sitting in front of my laptop dressed in pajamas. I found happiness befriending people from different countries and cultures. I found happiness in the ocean when I learned how to surf. I found happiness finally being able to afford a full meal after weeks of skipping dinner because I was broke as fuck.

People, especially Filipinos, will tell you that success means packing up your bags and being an OFW in a different country. Earning dollars. Living in a mansion. Being politically famous. Having your face plastered on tarpaulins outside your alma mater.

And that’s, of course, understandable given our shit economy, fear of poverty, and the prevalence of colonial mentality. People were born to want more than adequate, were traumatized to crave for more than needed.

But success is not money. Success is not fame. If it were, we wouldn’t have made different words for them in the first place.

Success is doing what you want to do with passion and determination. Success is being able to put food on the table, regardless if you can’t afford a Michael Kors handbag or an expensive car.

And success is also giving up what you want to do, sacrificing your dreams and passions, because you choose to be practical for the well-being of yourself or others. Success is being a middle-class single mother able to provide for her family, not allowing a missing father or a teenage pregnancy to impact her and her child.

So no matter what people think, don’t let them define your success. Don’t let them define your “enough”. Don’t let people, not even your teachers, define you.

Work hard for what YOU want, and be your own hero and own definition of it. We may not be rich, famous, or your typical idea of successful, but our lives can be fulfilled in other ways.

As Herbert Bayard Swope once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but I do know the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”

I also don’t know the key to success, but I do know it is not measured by how many medals you have plastered on your wall, or how many teachers remember your name after you graduate, or how many tests you aced, or how many famous people you know, or how many branded items you own, or how many exotic vacations you can afford to take.

Do not compare your definition of success with others. You will only end up feeling bitter and discontent because you assume your definition is wrong. It is not. It is simply different.

So live your own life. Define your own success.Thought Catalog Logo Mark

More From Thought Catalog