When we set realistic expectations for ourselves
Nashua | I consider it a success to own a home, and not to eat a big bag of yogurt-covered raisins.
As the weather starts to get warmer and my birthday starts to get closer, I find myself taking stock of where I’ve been and where I’m headed at almost 28-years-old. I haven’t quite figured out yet if it’s the way the sun shines on the first warm day of the year or the fresh air winding through the house that changes my perspective, but March is like my second New Year. This year, I was mulling over the concept of success.
Success has traditionally been thought of as a linear progression of events: Graduate college, land a stable job, get married, buy a house, start a family, then retire. Of course, not everyone will reach those milestones, either by choice or by circumstance, and maybe not in that order. By the time I graduated college, the transition into adulthood wasn’t as straightforward. In fact, I was feeling a lot like Alice from the animated Disney film – lost in Tulgey Wood and watching the path I was on disappear right in front of me, along with the job market.
Millennials can certainly relate to the anxiety and worry that comes with trying to find your way. In 2016, 300 people who identified as millennials were polled by Inc.com contributor, Melanie Curtain, and of those 300 respondents, 67 percent described feeling an immense amount of pressure to be successful. They also felt like they were up against a self-imposed clock and that they hadn’t done enough. Feature enough twenty-somethings on the covers of business magazines and it creates a skewed perception that everyone is suppose to make their greatest contribution to civilization before they’re 30 or be labeled a failure.
I felt this way, too, for a good portion of my twenties. Some days, I still wonder if I should be further along than I am, and then I realize how ridiculous that is. Why should I feel inadequate because I’m not the CFO of a ground-breaking tech startup with a six-figure income, or be kicking myself for not having designed the hottest new app while I was still in college? Can we lower the bar a little and set more realistic expectations, please?
So, if the average millennial isn’t say, working on the cure for cancer, what does it mean to be successful? For previous generations, wealth may have been the basis for success, but for millennials, having watched their parents lose their jobs, homes and retirement during the recession, success has become less about money. According to journalist Courtney Martin, who gave a thought-provoking TED talk about the new American Dream in February 2016, the question we should be asking is “How do you want to be when you grow up?” not, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” There’s a growing emphasis being placed on emotional satisfaction when talking about success.
Saying yes to things that contribute to your growth and well-being will boost your happiness, and that’s time well spent. Time is our most valuable and most limited resource. That can be pretty intimidating to a college graduate faced with significant decisions and romantic notions of changing the world. Why work in a demanding yet unstimulating environment with toxic people doing a job that isn’t meaningful?
With that being said, it’s also important to find peace in the drudgery between breakthroughs that can often leave you feeling restless and doubtful. Oftentimes, it’s during these periods of uncertainty that promote creative solutions. It’s within our power to create success for ourselves, so take heart when life seems bleak. Even Alice eventually found her way.
Success is largely a matter of personal perspective, and that perspective can change over time with self-discovery and the shifting of priorities. For example, I consider it not only a success to own a home and be able to pay my bills on time, but to also not eat an entire bag of yogurt covered raisins in a single sitting as much as I may want to. My debt-to-income ratio might be a little skewed right now, but I enjoy the work that I do and the people I work with and can still afford to eat.
Life is good.
So, on that first spring-like day back at the end of February, as I thought about what it means to be successful, I came to the conclusion that I’m doing pretty good considering some of the curve balls that have been hurled at me.
You may not be the next Mark Zuckerberg, and that’s okay. You’re doing alright, my friend.
Allison Cote is a Nashua native and enjoys discussing topics that impact millennials. Her column appears in The Telegraph on the first Saturday each month.