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Defining Success

Posted by on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 in Academics, College Life, Communications, Diversity, General Information, Student Leadership, Student Life.

This post was inspired by an assignment I had to do for my MHS Medicine and Literature class, in which I had to write an essay based not only on my own view on a topic but include others’ views as well through crowdsourcing. I found my results to be quite enlightening, so I decided to make a blog post out of it! (I’ve made the names anonymous to protect privacy)

How has your definition of success changed throughout your time at Vanderbilt?

Deniz (Me, junior): Personally, I feel that success does not depend as much on grades anymore, like in high school, but rather, what I’ve learned. I also realize success is different for everyone. For me, success implies doing something worthwhile that both you enjoy and other people benefit from, which thus contributes to society in some way. Additionally, I find success in being comfortable with being myself and knowing that I am well-liked for who I am.


A (junior): When I first came to Vanderbilt, success to me was scoring the highest on all my tests and getting all A’s. When I realized that that’s not going to be possible here, I redefined success as doing the most, always being busy, and checking every box when I compared myself to others. After going abroad and meeting students at other schools who are able to take life as it comes and move past their failures or shortcomings more easily, I realize now that success is being able to do things you care about and that you think the world needs while also being able to take time for yourself.


B (junior): At first I’d hoped to primarily make my family happy through pursuing a career as a doctor. However, I’ve altered my career plans to best suit my individual happiness + the monetary income that will assure my family that coming to America 20 years ago wasn’t a mistake.


C (junior): First year definition of success: Being well-known, being well-liked, fitting traditionally masculine ideals, being muscular/confident/successful with girls, always being “on” (confident, charismatic, high-energy).

Sophomore year definition of success: Most of the same stuff as above, also being accepted by my fraternity brothers, continuing to be a “Vanderbilt celebrity.”

Junior year definition of success: Being easy on myself, forming deep relationships, being a mentor to younger men at Vanderbilt, getting better at basketball and growing as an athlete and leader, making memories, being myself, trying new things, more establishing my own sense of “cool,” being myself.


D (junior): When I initially began attending Vanderbilt, my idea of success was solely based on my grades in classes. I believed that if I achieved all A’s on my assignments, then I was truly succeeding and thriving at Vanderbilt. However, after receiving my first non-A grade, I began to question my success. Some of my peers were not receiving all A’s on their assignments, yet they were awarded internships and jobs at top companies. I began to realize that success is not necessarily only doing well in school, but it is using what you have and the resources presented to you in the best ways that you can. You can have a 4.0 GPA and be unhappy and/or unemployed during the summers and post-graduation. To me, being successful is doing what makes you happy in life and using what you have to achieve that goal not only at Vanderbilt but also outside of campus in the real world.


(senior): It has pretty much remained the same. I define being successful as doing something that you like, are good at, and that makes society better overall.


F (junior): I’d say my definition of success coming into college was basically getting straight A’s/a perfect GPA in high school, getting into a good high-ranking college, and my parents’ approval. Since then, it’s become more doing my best in classes (which I usually think is an A but not always), achieving specific goals I set for myself, and progressing towards my career goals.


G (senior): Sure thing! My idea of what success is has changed a whole lot. When I first came into college I thought that success was solely for academics. But studying here has helped me realize that there’s also personal success. “What can I do to grow as a person, who can I talk to to gain new perspectives?” These are some of the new questions I keep in my mind when wondering if I’m successful.


H (senior): This is rough and I’m kinda just riffing. Please excuse anything that makes zero sense lol. Been thinking about this topic a lot this year, as a second semester senior lol. Prior to college, I defined success as achieving things that were personally meaningful to me–winning YouTube contests, building things, opening for certain bands. Senior year, I started to equate success with college acceptance and worked hard to get my standardized test scores up for Vandy.

After being at Vandy my freshman year, I changed my perspective of success to mean “achieving what others with my academic interests deemed as noteworthy.” I came in wanting to pursue a career in biotech but quickly decided to look into med school since that’s how everyone else defined success.

After taking and loving organic chemistry the following summer, I thought medicine was the right fit for me. At the end of the summer, I had the opportunity to go into a cadaver lab for the first time. It was pretty scarring, honestly, and I realized maybe this isn’t the field for me.

I joined the Melodores the following year and started getting to be creative again and pursue the things I’d once loved as a kid in high school–performing with my celebrity role models, traveling, etc. I decided to change my perspective once again to defining success as simply setting goals and achieving them, in any capacity. I started to pursue opportunities, both small and lofty, and deal with failure. I began to worry less about what others perceived success to be and going after the things that made me feel fulfilled.

In summary, I think the social environment pushes a narrative about happiness and specific realms of success as going hand in hand. What I’ve learned, both through personal growth and seeking out various circles on campus, is that success is a highly personal, subjective thing which can only be realized by the individual seeking it. Students should be vulnerable and comfortable being uncomfortable to fully appreciate this. 


I (junior): Throughout my time my definition of success has shifted dramatically. Initially, upon entering Vanderbilt, I valued academic and professional success as the hallmark of my achievements. However, throughout college I began to understand that success is a subjective term that each individual must realize for themselves. Everyone has their own definition of success and my current definition of success is being true to myself and giving a wholehearted effort in any endeavor I pursue. I believe success is determined by pushing oneself to try new things and giving everything the best effort.


J (senior): As a kid, my parents advised me to “give 100%!” of my energy to all tasks, so success meant living up to the parentally imposed standard of “trying my best” on standardized testing, classwork, extracurriculars, friendships, hobbies, etc., etc. Entering college, my involvement options expanded so broadly that it’s become necessary to focus my “try your best” mentality upon the work I’m most passionate about to avoid burn-out. Narrowing down my passions and energy has been the main change in my pursuit of success, but I still believe that input is more important than output in the process. Things may not always work out, but if you did your best on what you care about and learn from past experiences, then you’ve succeeded in my book.


K (sophomore): When I first entered Vanderbilt as a first-year, my idea of success was quite numerically oriented. I sought to make the highest grades without regard for my health, sleep, and general well-being. However, after three semesters and change here, I have realized that success stems from intrinsic value found through balance, satisfaction, and enthusiasm in achieving goals I set for myself.


L (sophomore): I think when I first came in, my success was based on quantifiables, such as graduating and achieving a high position in some industry level company or based off a high salary. Now, I believe that my success should be based upon how much I contribute to the world and personal happiness. Personally, I would find a successful life to be contributing to a field of learning through research and doing what I want instead of what society tells me I should.

M (senior): A few years ago, I would have said success is reaching a set goal. However, the outright failures and other frustrations I’ve encountered at Vanderbilt have taught me that the definition of success is flexible. Sometimes, success can coexist with failure when you learn from mistakes, regardless of fault.  At other times, it’s not enough to simply reach a set goal, but rather strive to surpass expectations. For me now, success is maintaining a path towards self-progress while avoiding the temptation of overconfidence and lingering pitfalls of disappointment.


Overall, we seem to have shifted our belief of what success is from academically oriented achievements like test grades and GPA to more personally defined successes. And even though we are define success differently, seeing my peers’ perspectives has made me realize that we are not alone in our struggles and in the end we all want similar things, which are contributing to not only society but our own personal development to be able to feel like we have succeeded.


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