How to be successful

Hello hi hey there, how’s it going? I hope that you had a fantastic weekend! Today we are going to chat about how to be successful. As I prepare for my second year of university, work at camp, write for the blog, and collaborate with other organizations online (more exciting news coming soon!), I’ve found myself thinking more and more about one particular thing: what does it mean to be successful? 

What is success?

In our society, I think it’s fair to say that “success” has one acceptable definition. If you have a lot of money because of your highfalutin job, which you go to every day on the top floor of a skyscraper in your fancy car, then come home to see your perfect family and your university degree hanging on your wall, then go to nice restaurants and exotic trips and to the spa, you are successful. And if you don’t have these things? Looks like you’re a failure.

This sucks. I’ll say that quite plainly because I dislike how we have one way of defining success. We define how successful we are through materialistic objectives, deeming our self-worth and happiness based on how much “stuff” we have. The question is, why do we do this?

If I were to answer this question, my guess is that rapid urbanization and industrialization across the planet is the main if not the sole culprit. Humans are competitive by nature, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to survive for thousands, fighting for resources, food and shelter. The more advanced society becomes, the more jobs we can have, the more places we can travel, the more things we can buy; the more room there is for comparison. When humans lived in small tribes or communities, everyone had a job to do. There were the hunters and gatherers, the communicator, the chief and other important roles. Everyone had something specific to do and they weren’t comparing their worth to one another because they knew that all of their roles were valuable and irreplaceable within the community.

The stress of today’s world

Nowadays, there are so many jobs out there and so many people who can fill that job at once. If our job performance isn’t so hot, we are threatened with probation and could possibly get fired. We are told that we are replaceable, and at the snap of a finger our employers could find someone to fill our position. We are under constant stress to do well, to work as much as we can, wearing ourselves down because of how hard we work. We come home exhausted, still feeling the stress and worrying how we’re going to move up in the world let alone keep our position. We eat, sleep, and repeat this cycle. There’s hardly any room for fun or relaxation when you’re working so hard. And the people who do make time for friends, for themselves? The people who don’t have it all figured out right after university, or the people who feel that post-secondary school isn’t the right path for them? They’re called lazy, a mooch, directionless. Friends and family are constantly pressuring these individuals to do something with their lives, to go to school or get a “real” job, without even considering how that individual feels. What if they don’t want to go to school, or aren’t sure just yet where they belong? Why is this seen as a bad thing?

It’s 2018, and competition is at its greatest intensity in all aspects of life. Maybe there used to be only a few restaurants in your home town, all of which had different specialities so everyone did fine. Today there are dozens, if not hundreds, of restaurants that offer the same specialities, so each restaurant has to work desperately hard to be the best of their kind, offer the best prices, the best food, the best atmosphere. If they’re not the best? They’ll close almost as soon as they open. I’ve seen this happen so many times, and I know I’ll continue to see it.

Me in the first semester, not making time for relaxation and trying to avoid a mental breakdown.
Competition in school: who is the most successful?

School is horrible for competition. Everyone is competing to be the “best” and have the highest grade in each subject, to have the highest average of their class. Friends talk behind each other’s backs about marks, saying they’re happy when one of the “better” students in the class does poorly on the trigonometry test (I’m speaking from experience here, being the one who almost flunked it and finding out how happy others were to hear this). People are getting caught cheating on tests and exams, but for what reason? University students are abusing Adderall to improve their studying so they can get better grades.

Mental disorders like anxiety, depression and others are becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s youth. Students are killing themselves because they can’t deal with the pressure from friends, family and even themselves to be successful. This past March, for weeks I had to look out my dorm room window in residence to see the boarded-up window of the poor student who jumped from the twelfth floor of another residence building and killed themselves. In the past year alone, my school has seen three student suicides. The stress to do well and be the best is overwhelming for everyoneThis all needs to stop.

This post is titled “How to be successful” so of course I need to offer my advice for being “successful.” I really only have one tip, but it’s a big one. Ready to hear it? Make sure you’re paying attention.

We. Need. To. Stop. Comparing. Ourselves. To. Each. Other.

Did you get that? No? I’ll repeat it. We need to STOP comparing ourselves to each other. Did you get it that time?

So what if you don’t have the best grades in school? So what if you don’t know what you want to do in your life just yet and are working at a fast food place in the meantime? So what if you want to continue working there because it’s fun and social? So what if you’re a thirty-something-year-old woman, aren’t married nor are currently in a relationship? Are you happy with where you are? Do you at least feel content with what you are doing? So then why does your life and what you’re doing matter to other people more than yourself? If you’re happy and have time for friends, family and relaxation, that is what I think a “successful” life is really about.

This is what success looks like to me: having fun with friends in the middle of stressful exam season.
A pair of leggings = success?

If you’re not a big CEO at Google, why does your neighbour’s friend’s cousin’s opinion of you matter? Why do we need to post a photo of our brand new designer purse on Instagram? Is it so our “friends” feel jealous or envious? I remember when I was in eighth grade, TNA leggings were a huge deal. I didn’t have any designer clothes; I mostly shopped at Bluenotes, Walmart, places that had clothes for a decent price without any fancy logos. In eighth grade, I was super self-conscious of this fact, so one Saturday I asked my mom if we could go to Scarborough Town Centre so I could buy a pair of the leggings. When we got there I realized just how expensive these flimsy pieces of fabric were, so I opted for the cheapest pair, which were eighteen dollars at the time (now almost thirty dollars) and were also so thin and see-through. Nonetheless, I wore them to school the following Monday, and you can imagine how good I felt when my peers took notice. Then came Lululemon leggings, and my god that was a nightmare. I still wear them today because this time I actually like the products, but at the time it was all for the brand name.

The fact that we call ourselves worthy because we own a pair of leggings is ridiculous and speaks nothing about the person we are inside. Some of the most creative, thoughtful and considerate people aren’t worried about what brand of clothes they wear, what company they work for, or who’s seeing their social media pages. We try to appear happy all the time, try to act like life is great. We hide the fact that the forty-hour work weeks are wearing us down. We hide that when we get home from work, we sit on our couch and feel bad for ourselves because we’re not doing as well as our coworker, friend or family member.

We hide that we’re relying on three cups of coffee every morning to have enough energy to keep going, that we have to take anti-depressants and a whole slew of other medications because our self-image has plummeted since we stopped being kids and got punched in the face by the real world. Despite all of our efforts to be great, to try and figure out who we are before we are actually ready for it, we only find ourselves in a worse place. Every time we make even one tiny mistake, we beat ourselves up so, so hard over it. We are the bully on the schoolyard that everyone fears. We are also the victim of the bully’s taunting. We are our own worst enemy.

Success is: having fun, living life and working hard (but not too hard)

You know what I think about myself? I think I’m pretty successful. Not because of how I’m doing in school, or because of my blog, or my jobs. I think I am successful because I am able to get up every day and say to myself, “you are worthy.” I don’t compare myself to what I see on social media; if I see something triggering in the slightest way, I move past it. I don’t spend my time idolizing celebrities, dreaming I had a life like theirs. They have their own problems, too. I don’t spend my time beating myself up, feeling so sorry for myself and wallowing in self pity. I live my life. I have fun. I work hard, but I do it because I like to be busy and enjoy making a difference in the lives of others. 

Make time for fun in life. Go out with a friend, have a nice long chat about life. Just live in the moment!

This summer I was offered two amazing jobs, one with the City of Toronto and one with a professor at Waterloo to work on a research project with her. Both jobs were in my field of study, would provide me with so much experience and allow me to make great connections for the future. But I turned both of them down, and now I’m a camp counsellor at Life Time Fitness. True, I had already accepted my job at the camp before receiving the offer for either of these positions, but I could have very easily turned around and changed my mind. I didn’t, though, because I believed that I made the right choice.

This is my last summer until I graduate in 2022 because of the way my co-op program runs, so I wanted to have as much fun as possible. This means spending time with friends, getting enough sleep, relaxing, and just enjoying my time. The job with the city would have required me to commute more than two hours every day, doing a job that involved tasks that I wasn’t excited about. The research assistant job would require me to stay in Waterloo, and was offered to me just days before moving back home. I wouldn’t get to see any of my friends or family if I stayed there, and would probably find it quite lonely being there for the whole summer and then not coming back until 2022. Yes, I am working between thirty to forty hours every week with the camp, but working with the kids is so much fun. Tiring, I will admit, but I am paid to goof around and be a role model for the kids. I work with an amazing team in an awesome place. I get to go on trips to places I haven’t been before for free. I get to play games, dance, swim, make crafts, tell stories and more. It is my job, but aside from constantly watching the kids make sure they don’t get hit in the face with a basketball or don’t escape the activity studio, I feel so privileged to be working in a place where I can actually have fun.

I know that the other jobs are “real world jobs” which I will likely face during my co-op, but I wanted to have my freedom for this last summer. I had so many people telling me to take the “real” jobs, but I did what I felt was right for me, and I am so glad that I made this decision. I gave up jobs that paid up to nineteen dollars an hour for a minimum wage job (fourteen dollars an hour), but I am happy with this because success is not about the money for me. I think I am successful because I feel good about myself, not because I am making a lot of money.

Success is different for everyone

My success looks different from yours. Maybe you would have taken the job with the city or the professor. Our values are different, and that’s cool. If you’d taken one of the other jobs, I wouldn’t judge you. I would congratulate you and wish you the best. Then I would get on with my own life.

One of our most successful dances in my opinions, simply for how much fun we always had in class and at competitions.

So, when figuring out what success means to you, ask yourself a few things:

  • Does this genuinely make me happy?
  • Am I doing this for myself, or is there some external force driving me to do this?
  • Am I hard on myself when something doesn’t go as I thought it would, or I don’t do as well as I’d hoped?
  • Do I look forward to my job/classes every day?
  • When was the last time I had some “me” time?

The answers to these questions should give you a good indication of where you stand in terms of your personal definition of success. I have a feeling that most of us are being too critical of ourselves and are expecting too much. We are all human. We all live, we all die. Life goes on. Make the most of your life, and that does not mean make as much money as possible or make all of your friends wish they were you. That means have fun, get outside and play, take on a new hobby, find out what is truly important to you!

Remember how you used to be so happy and care-free as a child? Use this perspective to shape your definition of success.
It’s not easy

I know it isn’t easy to live pressure-free. Family can be a big pressure, and with family being so ingrained in our cultural roots it’s hard to say no to them. But remember, you are doing it for your own wellbeing. If your parents want you to be a doctor, are they saying you have to do it for your own happiness, while you have countless mental breakdowns as you struggle through school? If you become a doctor, is it for your own good? Are you going to be happy, or are your parents going to use you to brag to their friends and other relatives? You figure that out and then re-evaluate your values.

At the end of the day, you are your biggest supporter or enemy, whichever you choose to be. There are so many external factors that impact how we feel about ourselves and behave in the world around us. I am not perfect; I went through many, many years of criticizing myself for every little thing, to the point that my physical and mental health suffered severely It took a lot of effort and patience to get to the place I am at now, and that place is called content.

I am content with where I am. I am content with the fact that I am unsure of my future (as we all are), and I will figure things out as I go through life. I am content with not being in a relationship right now, with being exhausted from work because I am having fun and inspiring the kids, with still having some time to myself and to hang out with friends. Life isn’t perfect, I am not perfect, and I am learning to accept my mistakes and move on from them. I encourage you to start thinking this way, too. Spend less time on social media, go out for a walk, do yoga, meet up with an old friend, read a book. Do something that you enjoy that relies less on self-comparison and focuses purely on yourself and how you feel in your body. Just be. Only then can we expect ourselves to enjoy the experience that is life.

Final thoughts

I hope you enjoyed today’s post and will stop to evaluate what you define as success. You can even do it right now if you want. I actually encourage it so that this post is fresh in your mind. Knowing how you define “success” and how you measure up to this definition is the first step to actually being successful, but in a way that is measured by how you feel about you, not how others feel about you.

If you enjoyed this post on how to be successful, make sure to check out these ones as well:

Have a great rest of your week, and remember to just be yourself. Everything else will fall into place.

Until next time 🙂

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