Throughout my life, I’ve come to realize success, like happiness, is relative. I can reflect back on my childhood and remember the first time I rode my bike around the neighborhood – no training wheels, with my parents cheering me on from the sidelines. That was success. When I skidded my snowboard to a halt at the bottom of the bunny hill successfully without falling, I remember pumping my arms in the air wildly and screaming joyously through my ski mask. That was success.
Whenever I go to the theater now, I reflect back on the opening night of the play I wrote and directed. I watched as my hard work culminated before my eyes and remember crying like a blubbering idiot in the back of the black box. I couldn’t contain my happiness. That was success. I’d like to think that the definition of success directly correlates with happiness. Success tends to bring people joy, but happiness, unlike success, is not achieved.
Happiness is a state of mind, and it tends to tag along for the ride with success. It is the mental satisfaction we gain from these life experiences that constitutes as success, not the amount of attention we receive and popularity among the masses we gain. Being admitted into Emerson College was a step towards the grown up definition of success. Completing college, securing a steady paying job, meet some strapping lad in the line at Starbucks, marry him and make a beautiful family, work my ass off to fund my children’s educations, and the cycle repeats. But in all honesty, none of those things seem remotely tantalizing to me.
What I am looking forward to is the mini milestones I will reach in between these core stages of adult life. I’m eager to pay my taxes for the first time, to vote for my president, to get plastered at my bachelorette party, to make a speech at my younger brother’s wedding, to learn how to surf in Santa Monica, to perform at a poetry slam, to buy my first brand spanking new car, to swim with the dolphins at Sea World, to drag my kids on Kingda Ka and revel in their ear splitting screams at the roller coaster’s climax. Who says success cannot take form in these types of moments scattered throughout our lives? The success I experienced throughout my childhood was minimized down to seemingly irrelevant happenstances when I arrived to Emerson. I sat in the glorious Cutler Majestic Theater among my classmates and shrunk further and further down in my seat as the college representative on stage rattled off success stories that my peers had achieved.
Sally got signed to a record company. Bobby created his own non-profit foundation. Angie’s film won numerous awards and made it to the Sundance Film Festival. Steven created his own fashion line. The woman on stage kept going and going, the smile of a proud mother plastered on her face, until I felt my ego reduced to oblivion. How could my short play I directed compare to what these kids have done in what little time they’ve been breathing on this earth? I couldn’t match up to these magic makers and others empathized with the bad taste in my mouth after the assembly.
Though I’m sure they had the best intentions in mind, I think the action in itself served as an ego boost for the college more so than it’s students. I was thoroughly convinced the college was implicitly setting the bar high for it’s new students. If we didn’t move mountains within the arts we weren’t cut out for such a prestigious institution. I blamed myself for not going the extra mile when I had the opportunity to do so, for not raising my standard of success to what I thought the college believed it to be. I felt inadvertently pressured to join all of the organizations on campus in order to climb higher to reach that standard the college had set.
And then I realized something, I wasn’t those kids. I think Emersonians tend to forget that that is just what we are; kids. I figured out why I had not decided to create a non-profit organization to benefit the starving in Africa and it definitely wasn’t because I didn’t care. It was because I was too damn busy enjoying my youth, enjoying the last shred of innocence I possessed before the world beyond high school snatched it away and bared it’s sharp teeth at me. I was going to prom, staying up all night to study for the AP World History Test, learning how to drive, and going to Disney World with my family.
The world does not stop turning for any given person, but who says we need to lose our breath just to keep up with it? What are we rushing for? Slow down and stop to catch your breath. Emerson College is just what it is, a college. It will not define who we are or what we will do for the rest of our lives, because the rest of our lives is a very long time. Our dreams, hopes, aspirations, and definition of success is entirely up to our discretion.