Changing My Definition of Success to Pursue Something Greater

When I attended college the first time in 2007, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I got good grades, played sports, volunteered, and worked at least one job most of my high school career so I was obviously motivated. I was accepted into a school on full scholarship for early decision and everyone would have expected me to have a PhD by now. Instead, I changed my major 6 times and transferred school 4 times where I ended up dropping out in 2011. I decided to go back to school again in 2015 for exercise science, finished in 2018, deployed, and chose not to pursue a career in Physical Therapy after a long internal debate with myself when I returned. The only reason I decided to go back to school in 2020 was because my job didn’t pay enough, so the GI bill was supplemental income. I finished my degree out of principle that I finish what I start. 

Success is a term that is often associated with a career, financial status, or the “American Dream.” If there’s one thing I wish my younger self would have learned earlier on, it would be that success is defined differently for everyone. I spent the greater part of 10 years chasing this concept of success until I realized that maybe I need to create my own definition of success and start running like hell after it. I started to think my definition of success was more synonymous with happiness. I say this because over time I started to realize some of the most visibly successful people have the potential to be the most miserable people on the planet. In fact, a friend of mine who is a Certified Financial Planner once had a client who inherited 750 THOUSAND dollars from her son who committed suicide. He was described as having a great job, always pleasant to be around, having hobbies and a social life, and more money in the bank than I’ll probably ever see in my lifetime. This man was “successful,” but after hearing this story I don't know if I can make it any more clear that money doesn’t buy happiness and therefore cannot define success in my book.


 In a column titled “Wear Sunscreen,” Journalist Mary Theresa Schmich wrote “The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don't.” At 31 years old, it was a comforting thing to hear, because I like to consider myself interesting. Basically, don’t force yourself to do something because it seems like a good prospect or someone else said it would be a good idea. While you’re young and still resilient, take some time to see what the world has to offer; explore your options, visit friends in other parts of the world, go on a hike, and then reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in awhile and meet them for coffee. I guarantee you will learn more valuable lessons in those experiences than you ever thought you would. You will learn about other people and places, but also about yourself. It will give you experiences to talk about in the future, but you will also have the opportunity to enjoy life and hopefully figure out what makes you happy. 

In my initial chase for success, I chose to pursue Physical Therapy because I knew I wanted to help people and it was a well paying and very respectable career. People often thought highly of my goals because of their prestige, but I wasn’t sure it would really make me happy... After experiencing a deployment, traveling the world, reconnecting with old friends, and networking with veterans and hikers, I decided my calling wasn’t a standardized job title and there wasn’t a deliberate path of boxes to check. I discovered my desire to live by my own rules and decided I wanted to combine my passion for the wilderness and helping veterans who struggle with the same mental illnesses that have plagued myself and so many others I care about. I created a plan to walk away from societal ideals and ignore my family’s expectations, and while it is a scary feeling, I believe the risk is worth a chance at finding happiness. So here’s to a new beginning.