Redefining Success

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“A person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity.” That is the dictionary’s definition of success. In reality, the idea of success changes over time and means something different to everyone. We know that sometimes it feels as if there are only a handful of options after you graduate. In reality, you can do whatever you want as long as it makes you happy! Whether it’s grad school, accepting a job offer, or taking some time off, there are plenty of ways to lead a fulfilling life and reach your personal version of success. 

Not everyone idealizes the American dream anymore. The perfect vision of success used to be a house fit for a married couple and their two children, enclosed in a white picket fence. But now, success can simply mean achieving your definition of true happiness. Sometimes we want to reach certain goals and follow certain paths to please others. But what really matters is making sure you are happy with what you are doing, because you are living your life for you. That is what success is today.

The slogan “Spartans Will” is a phrase that each student has carried close to their hearts after receiving their acceptance letters. We see it plastered around campus, in ads and some of us even analyze the campaign in classes. To many, “Spartans Will” encourages a mentality of tackling difficult problems head-on, overcoming challenges and changing the world. It means standing up for what you believe in, speaking out and making a difference. When you look at what “Spartans Will” means to students, it’s obvious that there is a direct link to success. This slogan empowers and encourages students to define success in their own, unique versions. At any stage of a college education, it’s scary to stop and think, “well what’s next?” It seems as though there are endless options and opportunities. 

If you didn’t want to jump right into your career after graduation, an option that you might consider is taking a gap year. But we already know why you might not consider doing that. You could be risking financial instability; your family will question every move you make and you could feel weird about taking different paths than your friends or peers. There isn’t one particular reason why people take a gap year, but it certainly allows them to experience life in new ways outside of school and work. While taking time off, you could travel the world, learn new skills, focus on your mental health, join the peace corps or do something abroad to learn about other cultures. Your gap year might not be a cookie cutter experience like you’d expect it to be. But who knows, it could be everything you didn’t know you needed.

To get the inside scoop on this kind of path after graduation, here are some insights from Meghan Green — an MSU alumna who has recently been traveling the world and has taught in Thailand. 

“I think I realized while sitting in one of my final lectures that if I wanted to do something like this it would be now or never,” said Green. “I know the world is huge and there’s so much we can learn from one another and from our own experiences in a different culture.”

Green taught English in Thailand and hasn’t second-guessed her decision yet. She kept a blog during her time teaching as a way to reflect on her experiences.

Green loved the education she gained at MSU, and she can’t wait to eventually start her career. But for now, she wishes to travel throughout more of Southeast Asia before heading home. 

“There are so many things I have learned in Thailand that I will be able to come home with. I don’t even know where to begin. Learning to navigate and adapt to a foreign culture, problem-solving foreign concepts like transportation, learning to communicate in another language, learning to be flexible and learning life lessons from people who grew up with a totally different perspective,” said Green.

Experiencing a different culture has taught Green that once she begins the start of her career, she at least wants to dedicate a couple weeks per year for traveling. You could say her definition of success is to become more of a global citizen and to become more culturally aware. 

If taking a whole year off after graduation isn’t your speed, but you still want to travel and explore the world, you can definitely find a way to balance your career and your adventures! Nicole Jakubik graduated from MSUin spring 2016 with a degree in media and information technology, and a concentration in television, film and radio. She now works in the Metro Detroit area for an independent television and film studio as an associate producer. Her plans and goals changed a lot over the course of her senior year.

“During my first semester I was super confident that I was going to move to New York City and work at a major television network,” said Green. “Second semester came around and it became very clear that my plan was not going to happen anytime soon. The thirty jobs I applied to quickly turned into over a hundred, and I still had no job offers. I was totally freaking out. It’s so easy to get this idea in your head of what your plan in life should be, and think that somehow that plan is going to fall into place.” 

After weighing her options and working hard to figure out a backup plan, one of her mother’s coworkers was able to put her in contact with someone starting a film company and she landed the job she has now.

While Jakubik thinks taking a gap year sounds like an amazing opportunity, she didn’t personally feel that she could take an entire year off to travel. “I knew I needed to start my career as soon as I could. As much as I love traveling, I also love working.” She decided to take control of her days off, and make sure she is able to fulfill her travel goals while also pursuing her career goals. 

“It’s easy to get trapped into the career mindset that Americans have that you have to work all of the time, and if you take vacation or personal days, it means you’re lazy,” said Jakubik. “Don’t listen to that. Traveling can absolutely fit into your career. Use weekends. Where can you go from Friday to Sunday? If it’s a short plane ride or trip in the car, I’ll leave after work on Friday and get back as late as possible Sunday. Use long weekends for trips where you want extra time, or use personal days to create a long weekend! If I want to go somewhere international, that’s when I’ll use vacation time.”

Once you hit college, you have been in school for about 16 years non-stop — if you go straight from high school to college. That is a long time without getting a break. It is drilled into our heads that we can only reach success from going to school, but that’s not always the case. You can learn something new from every experience you have, and what better way to learn than to have rich, diverse experiences?

You can learn about different walks of life just by traveling the world, observing and talking to others. It is okay to jump right into your career after graduation, and it is okay to take some time to tend to yourself if need be. Your definition of what success is and how you reach it is truly up to you.