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College campuses are full of successful people. Places like UNC-Chapel Hill are populated by (over)achievers. Environments like these are ripe with learning potential and opportunities for social mobility. But there is a definition of success in this world that looks remarkably impressive. I think the easiest way to picture it is to imagine the ideal “successful student”. For me, I see a beautiful, young woman. She is charismatic, is the leader of one or two clubs on campus, is on the Dean’s List, has had multiple internships, has companies bidding to hire her, attends school on a merit scholarship and is oozing money and ambition. Now, this isn’t everyone’s exact image of the “successful student,” but I am willing to bet it is not too far off from the typical one.

The problem with this definition of success is the motivations behind this student’s achievements. Oftentimes, we are driven by the desire for a high-paying job, influence (power) over others, popularity and status. From the outside, one cannot tell what motivations my ideal student has. She may be leaning toward the altruism front. But, more likely, she is reminiscent of the less-than-selfless desires for power, wealth and status. 

And I don’t believe it’s completely our fault that we see these things as aspects of success. We live in a cosmopolitan culture in which these things are praised. We operate within social media, where these motivations flood our feeds. And, as college students at top universities, we are surrounded by institutions and people that preach these factors. At colleges such as UNC-CH, common conversation topics no longer include the weather or the local news. Here, conversations about jobs at Goldman Sachs or Capitol Hill internships are everywhere. We live and breathe the “successful student” mentality.

At this point, I’d usually offer a hopeful solution. I’m sorry to say that you have to figure it out on your own, like most fundamental things in life. I have an idea of my own, but it will almost definitely change. That is the thing about success. It is defined by your own personal goals, not the goals that society, friends or mentors tell you that you should have. If you choose, your definition of success can include those less-than-selfless desires. Free will is essential to defining and attaining success. No one can tell you that you’re wrong. As students, we need to ignore the lie of success preached to us and find our own way.

Katie Jackson

Chapel Hill '23

Katie is an undergrad at UNC Chapel Hill. She is part of the Campus Y Outreach Taskforce and HYPE Tutoring. Interested in sustainability, economics, and global culture and policy, Katie plans to study business, public policy, and environmental sciences. Katie loves her kitten named Hiccup (yes, from How to Train Your Dragon), her two dogs, her other kitten (even though it is technically her sister's) and her cat.
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