Letters from the dorm: Don’t let society define your notion of success

Talise Tsai

There are no set rules for what to do and how to do it well once you graduate – and that’s okay

Talise Tsai |

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It's a great, wide world out there, and it's OK not to have a concrete plan.

What are your plans after school? After university? If these questions strike fear in your heart, you’re not alone.

Growing up is scary. It means making tough choices, and understanding the difference between something you want and something you need – even if that defies what the world tells you means success. It means making important decisions – what do you want, and what are you willing to give up? And whose voice will you listen to – yours, society’s, or your family’s?

It’s easy to get pulled into everyone else’s wake, to start thinking that you want the same thing or see success defined the same way as they do. I have many ambitions, but I, too, have allowed these narratives to govern the way that I lived.

Over the past five years, though, I’ve realised that although I do enjoy having good grades and healthy competition, what also matters to me are meaningful conversations with others, setting aside time to invest in people, and getting exercise. These are the things that fuel me. Sacrificing these things meant I was never running on 100 per cent. I was losing sight of my purpose – to love and fight for a better world.

I was letting outside influences get me down about myself. If I didn’t make it through the interview stage of something, it was because I wasn’t a good leader, intelligent enough, or unique enough. I saw these things as outside my control, and they were dictating the direction of my aspirations.

But then I began thinking about my purpose and what brings me joy. I thought about everything I have that’s a gift – my talent, my hopes, and my resources. I began to feel very thankful for what I have, instead of worrying about what I don’t. There may be people smarter than me, but this in no way invalidates the good work I have done, and the people I have impacted.

Someone else’s actions don’t negate your own. We are here for a reason, and are part of something bigger than ourselves.

Society is obsessed with plans, dreams, and success – so much so that the word “contentment” almost carries a negative connotation. Someone who is “content” lacks drive and doesn’t seek improvement. But I think if you can’t get your dream job or achieve a yearly goal, don’t fret. Learn to stop and smell the roses – to appreciate things in the present, even when there is hardship.

My life planning has been tough but rewarding. The best lesson I’ve learned is that of humility. I am thankful for the good and the bad I’ve faced. I know now I want to give and to love, because at the end of the day, I’m on this Earth to love.

Edited by Ginny Wong

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