What is success? Many people define it in financial terms. However, our next Seniors Speak entry (submitted anonymously) challenges this view. May your perspective on life never be the same again.
Very soon after coming into the world, we know one fact for certain – within a few decades, each of us will die, and our existence on Earth will come to an end. Many people realize this, and they view their life as a limited segment: as if one day, the road on which they are travelling will abruptly stop. As a result, they try to fit as much as they can before the end of the road, and this drives their purpose in life. People search for significance and happiness in their financial success, their professions, and their possessions. Everything is dedicated to becoming successful and increasing the speed of life, because if only we could just cram more into one day, then we would have more to appreciate, we would be happier, everything would be better, and then ___
The unfortunate reality is that most people go through life with that mindset, and I cannot help but think that we are living the wrong way.
In my four years of high school, I have encountered many peers that are driven towards success. Ambition is always admirable; it demonstrates setting goals and working to achieve them. The problem, though, lies with the way that success is defined. People think that the ultimate goal in life is essentially the American Dream: to grow up, do well in school, attend a prestigious university, obtain a good job, raise a family – which will repeat the process. As a result, in high school, students are driven too deeply into getting accepted to their desired college. They often forget to appreciate the journey, or to pause and remember the value of learning. In college, there is little change – instead, students focus too much on becoming successful in the workforce. But if that is achieved – if we do obtain that desired job – then we must ask: what have we really accomplished? Perhaps there is happiness to be found in the American Dream, but even for those who achieve it, once they pass away, most people are soon forgotten. The “success” that was obtained had no lasting influence, and the road does hit its dead end.
Instead, though, we can change our perceptions of life. People should not think of it as a road with a final destination of “success.” We need to realize that life is better represented as an endless path, signifying a journey and the lasting influence that our lives can have. If people define financial success as their goal and think of death as the end of their lives’ meaning, then they will only find roads with abrupt ends. People overlook the fact that their actions influence those who come after them, and by searching only for personal success, they are acting in their own self-interest.
The idea of an endless road is very similar to the concepts that Aristotle articulated over two thousand years ago. He said that people should seek to become virtuous individuals, and in the process of doing so, they would achieve “areté,” or excellence, in what they do. Many important concepts of areté become lost in crude translations, but the Greek word also implies being virtuous and reaching one’s potential. Areté is not tied to any specific skill; it goes beyond any form of academia, music, or even sport. The ambiguity of the word allows people to decide what they want to do in life and work to reach their potential, reaching excellence in whatever it may be.
As humans, our potential extends so much farther than the concepts of the American Dream. Success in life should not be defined by professions or materialism. Instead, we must work to achieve areté, and be positive influences for those whom we leave behind once we pass away. The road is open ahead of us. Life is about finding our niche and fulfilling it, instead of worrying about how a test grade will affect the future. There is no tangible “success” to achieve, and in the grand context of society, there is no difference between earning $20,000 and earning $200,000. Driving a Mercedes is no different from driving a Ford. Going into the world and simply becoming “successful” is often actually meaningless.
I think of my life as an open road ahead of me. My primary goal is not to become a doctor or a prominent scientific researcher, nor is it to earn six figures. I want to take the knowledge that I have obtained from my experiences and education and use it to help others. If that is not viewed as success by the eyes of society, so be it. When I die, though, I hope to leave behind people who will remember me for what I did. Success, to me, is having a positive influence on others. The open, endless road signifies that even after I am gone, I will leave behind remnants of who I was, and these remnants will live on in others.
Ultimately, life is not a journey with a set destination. Goals should not be restricted to earning a particular salary or getting into a certain college. We should think beyond tangible means, and set our goals to be something that we are always striving towards, but can never fully achieve. My goal is to achieve areté within myself – to become the best person that I can be.
[Photo/Graphic Credit: Joe Reda]