Are You Successful?

by Kerri Entin | 11/25/03 6:00am

Money. Power. Status. Stability; markers of success, right? "No, no, wow, that's way too shallow," you say. Ok yes, so then what do you think, what makes a "successful" person? Lately, I am grappling with my conception of what a successful life looks like -- mainly my own. I recently had a dinner conversation (and a midnight conversation, and a telephone conversation, and a blitz conversation -- this subject is not on my mind at all, really, I swear) where the subject matter has somehow come from discussing my housemates' latest obsession with country line-dancing to discussing what I need in my life to be a successful person.

The other night at Food Court, my friend and I started to dream and scheme up business proposals of "alternative healthcare and growth centers," images of balanced lives, private medical practices, and poignant travel experiences. We began to tap into the things that we deem important for ourselves; the "non-negotiables," as it were. Balance became my mantra. I love the lifestyle I lead here at Dartmouth that melds my hunger for my academics with my passion for athletics and movement, my love for social time with people who interest me, my dedication to service and helping others, my connection to music and the arts, and even my zeal for sleep (I am getting better at incorporating this one). My success any given Dartmouth week typically is determined by my ability to strike a balance among these things, but I have absolutely no idea what form that will take as I begin to think about graduating in June.

Images of success are all around us -- our professors, our peers, the corporate recruiters, our parents -- the list is hopefully endless because there are some amazingly successful people around Hanover. And all these different success jackets seem to flatter those people who wear them, but what about our own coats? What fits us well?

So often we are lead to believe that success can be calculated by the age-old, conventional measurements of money, power and status. These terms are vast and complicated of course, but what we traditionally do not think of when gauging success is evaluating how happy we are with ourselves and our contribution to the world. I truly believe that Dartmouth strives to offer its students varied methods to pursue their own conceptions of success, and that the college recognizes that the world needs sincere people who will thrive only by following their interests and their dreams. But as of late, I have found it difficult to put my so-called passions and energies into a concrete picture that provides a nice building block for a job, no less a path, for the coming year.

Last spring, the Tucker Foundation gave me the opportunity to explore my potential as a young woman interested in healthcare, international understanding, the power of personal interaction and the Spanish language and culture. I worked in a Peruvian non-profit organization based in Lima, Peru where I advocated for healthy sexual and reproductive behavior and Family Planning. By interacting with Peruvians from the city communities, national universities, local pharmacies, and rural villages, I gained an understanding of a different culture as well a different picture of success. I was happier and more challenged than I have been in my traditional classroom setting, and this project was a success in every sense of the word for me. But along with the elated feeling I had, my experience also conjured up the old saying "the more you learn and the more you see, the more confused you become." I want more and I know more than I ever have before, but I am confused.

We all know that we are powerful and special due to our own interests and our own motivations, and that "success" is a personal satisfaction that comes from forming our lives around those desires. I know that my experience in Peru not only excited me about where I am capable of taking my academic education, but it also made me realize that we are successful because we follow our own passions and will contribute to the world because of it.

I am trying to go for those things that excite me and offer me a balanced lifestyle. If that's opening my own yoga/caf/alternative health center in San Francisco, I'll go for it; if that's traveling to Bolivia and working with a doctor in the jungle, I'll go for that; and if that's working in a health clinic speaking Spanish in New York City, I'll go for that too. The greatest lesson I have learned at Dartmouth has been the importance of being honest with myself and allowing myself to pursue those things that interest me, not because they interest anyone else, and recognizing the importance of balance in my life. Although my struggles with defining my path and my concrete conceptions of success remain, and inevitably will stick around for years to come (so I am told), I realize that we are on the right path if we can at least learn to listen to ourselves and talk frankly about our own important values with the people who are most helpful to us.

So what makes you successful?