What is the True Meaning of Success?

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By Asten Cosby

(last names have been left out of this article for privacy purposes)

What is success? What is being successful? How does one achieve being successful in their lifetime? What defines success? I ask myself these questions almost every day.

Success is something I’m sure everyone strives for. People are willing to go to desperate measures just to be successful. But how do we measure or define success? Is it a big house? A fancy car? An overflowing bank account?

Over the past month, I took the challenge of asking others around my community how they felt about success. First, I created a survey on the platform Survey Monkey. Out of the 64 (and counting) participants of the survey, 53% were college-aged.

In the survey, one of the questions was “What do you believe society’s definition of success is for your age/demographic?” Most of the answers were both identical and surprising. One read “Being rich and famous.” Another person felt that society defines success as being “educated, accomplished, and financially advanced.” The one that really caught my attention was, “The accumulation of accomplishments, money, and awards in a short period of time.”
So, is there a particular age that one should be successful? Is there pressure on young adults to be successful by a certain age?

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A few days after opening my survey, I took the time to conduct a follow-up interview with some of my classmates who had taken the survey for me. I asked them if they felt they needed to be successful before a certain age?

“Personally, I have a goal to be financially stable by the time I’m 35,”said Cassie.

“25. Definitely. If you aren’t successful by then, then I think you should just give up,” said Josie.

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“I don’t believe that success has an age limit,” said Carl. “If you’re meant to be successful, then you’ll be successful when the time is right.”
Another question I asked was, “Do you feel that society defines success differently for young African-Americans and young Caucasians?” Most of the answers I received from African-Americans was yes. Marcus, says this,

“The system is slated against us [African-Americans], so us reaching our success won’t be as easy as it would be for a white person. Like, for us, we’re either expected to be successful really early in life, or we won’t be successful at all, and even if we are successful early on, then we’re considered suspect and our success isn’t legitimate.”

Marcus then shared his own personal experience, to illuminate his point.

“I am fortunate enough to be successful in life right now because I have a paid internship. The internship pays me very well, and I was able to buy a brand-new car because of it. However, because I’m an African-American male, I’m young (21), and I have a Mercedes, I sell drugs or I’m a scammer and that’s how I’m ‘successful.’ However, if I was Caucasian, my success would come from me working hard in school and I earned my internship.”

I received a different response from my male Caucasian classmate named Hunter.

“I believe that society defines success the same way across the board. Work hard as long as you need to and you’ll be successful.”

Another question I posed was if they felt pressured to live up to society’s standard of success, and I got some very interesting responses. Kayla, an African-American female, says,

“Personally, I don’t feel pressured to be successful as society deems success to be, because, society makes it seem like the only way that I will be successful as an African-American woman is by stripping or doing music, and I have to blow up while doing it. I don’t have rhythm and I can’t rap or sing, so college and the time that it takes for me to begin to doing what I love to do is my success. It isn’t gonna be overnight.”

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Chelsea views this issue a little bit differently.

“Sometimes I do feel pressured because when you log into your social medias, you see young people being so successful all the time. Like today, I saw someone on my [Instagram] timeline who had just bought a house and they’re my age, and it’s like you’re pressured because you wish you could be able to buy those things at so young, but you can’t because you don’t have the money. Like, not everyone can be as successful at such a young age.”

So, it’s obvious that the opinions on success differ widely. Some feel that you’re only successful if you’re making a lot of money at a very young age and being legitimate while doing it. Others feel that you’re successful if you’re just happy with your life and content on how you’re living life.

I believe that success is all based on personal opinion, and that you shouldn’t look to someone else to see if you’re considered successful. If you feel you’re successful, then you’re successful. No questions asked.

Asten Cosby is a student at the University of South Alabama, majoring in Strategic Communications. She currently writes for her personal blogs, Sierra’s Voice and The Introverted Socialite (both under construction). She is also working on publishing a children’s book.

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