One of my favorite books that I read this summer was “Post Grad” by Caroline Kitchener, which followed five recent graduates from Princeton, all women, through their first year out of college. Coming from a prestigious university, not too dissimilar from Schreyer in some ways, all of the women really grappled with how to make sense of their lives after leaving college. The concept of success is explored a lot throughout the book, which has prompted some internal reflection on how I view and define success.
For as long as I can remember, my definition of success has included being a part of elite and prestigious entities. Things like winning awards in high school, receiving a travel grant to Africa at age seventeen, getting into Schreyer and PLA, have made me feel worthy and accomplished. As I plan for my first year out of college, which I’m framing as a gap or glide year, I find myself gravitating towards applying to prestigious fellowships and opportunities. Why? This is what I know, it is an integral part of my upbringing, and it is what people in my life encourage for me. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with my definition of success including prestigious things, as long as these opportunities are ones that I actually want to take. I’m applying to a variety of different, unique opportunities for my gap year, stemming from teaching English abroad for ten months to working in outdoor industry, because I know that many things make me happy and would constitute a great opportunity for personal growth in my first post-grad year.
The other day, I wrote out my definition of success in a day, in my senior year, and in my gap year. I’m successful in a day if I’m happy, I do something healthy, I give a hug or am hugged, take a moment to be outside, am productive in some way (even if its nontraditional), and if I’m my best self and feel that that’s enough.
In senior year, I’m successful if I don’t overload myself with responsibility, feel good about the work that I put in, solidify relationships with the important people in my life, soak it all up but don’t get caught up, and look forward.
In my gap year, I’ll be successful if I travel, experience new things, feel pushed and challenged, grow my comfort zone, round myself out, and think long and hard about graduate school.
I plan on revisiting these layers of definitions of success throughout the coming years to see how they change and evolve as I move away from Penn State and on to the next steps of my life. Prestigious or not, I’m confident that I can find happiness and a sense of accomplishment in whatever opportunities present themselves next.