Of the hundreds of picture books and fairy tales I consumed as a child, most all of them ended with, “And they all lived happily ever after.” 

I used to envision success as complete happiness. Since then, my concept of success has evolved, shifting continuously as I experienced college rejections and acceptances, my first part-time job, and now, life as a very overwhelmed college student. 

If happiness was success when I was a kid, then academic excellence and musical achievement were success in middle school and high school. Such expectations are placed on every kid in Chinese households, but the pressure was especially bad for me, as the eldest of three. 

It didn’t help that I simply couldn’t motivate myself to focus during my classes and piano lessons. I’d nod my head at the right times or make some noncommittal response to make it look like I was paying attention, but my mind was wandering elsewhere. 

This all resulted in an, at best, slightly above average academic record and a few musical awards that were hardly anything to brag about. 

Needless to say, up until high school, I wasn’t successful. After transferring to a new high school, I became even more aware that I was unmotivated and complacent. I wondered why my classmates were always either at sports practices, studying, or involved in some other extracurricular. 

I felt pressured to be like them, and so I stacked as many things as possible into my schedule. By my senior year, my new definition of success was attending an Ivy League, or at least another university of the same caliber. 

In case you couldn’t tell, I failed at that.

As a sophomore in college now, I’m still learning about failure and success. In the fall of my first year, I applied to over 30 jobs. I got a few responses, but no offers. In my spring semester, I applied to just about every ResLife position listed for first-year housing. 

I failed spectacularly at receiving any offers. This past semester, I again applied to a variety of jobs, internships, and leadership positions, and I managed to accumulate even more rejections. 

I began wondering, “Is there just something I lack that everyone else has? What am I doing wrong?” 

Reflecting on these experiences, I’ve decided that success shouldn’t be materialistic or numerical. My newest version of success pertains to my character, who I am as a person, instead of how high my GPA is, how many e-board positions I’ve got under my belt, or the amount of job offers I’ve received. 

Success is the ability to keep persevering, not letting material gains or losses define you. Regardless of what happens, I’m not burdened by the past. 

Society and social media endorse such a materialistic outlook; I didn’t even realize that the source of my unhappiness wasn’t my actual failure, but the reasons why I thought I’d failed.

I thought I’d failed because the interviewer didn’t think I was impressive enough. I thought I’d failed because I couldn’t answer every single question on an exam perfectly. 

While this is some form of failure, these events don’t define me as a person. I get to choose what my success is, not society.

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