Dunbar: Success is what you decide it to be


Blair Dunbar, Columnist

Last summer, I had an internship with the Chicago branch of the Federal Defender Program. I worked as a legal intern, helping one of the lawyers in the office with his cases. While there, I found out one of the other lawyers was a somewhat well-known jazz musician. He plays a couple instruments, has CDs and performs regularly at a bar in Andersonville.

I asked him why he gave up on music and decided to become a lawyer. His answer? It was time to grow up.

Of course, when he did decide to grow up, he was 26. And, of course, he still plays music. He told me not to settle down with a career or family right after college. Live in a crummy apartment, work any job you want and have fun for a few years. A year later, I remember his advice but not his name.

The school year is coming to a close, and for the seniors, that means they are just weeks away from entering the real world. It’s time for them to live on their own, pay their own bills and work. Some seniors have jobs lined up. Others have internships. Some are still waiting to hear back from jobs. And some don’t have any idea what they are going to do for the next year, let alone the next 10 years.

Northwestern is a high-stress environment full of overachievers. They start building their resumes beginning their freshman year, in the hopes of great success when they graduate. But this begs the question: What constitutes success?

My boyfriend, a senior, once told me NU students have a distorted sense of what “success” means. Sure, getting into a top law, medical or graduate school is great. So is working at a large banking or consulting firm. So is winning a prestigious fellowship. But is there anything wrong with being a barista in a coffee shop for a year or working in a store? My boyfriend said he would be perfectly happy selling eyeglasses or cheese for a year or two and being a volunteer coach in his free time. Then he’ll decide on something more long-term. After all, he is only 21.

I’m sure people will tell me I’m only a sophomore. What do I know? Well, I do know one thing. I’m not sure what I want to do with the rest of my life. I also don’t think I will know any better in two years. At 22, our brains aren’t even fully developed. My mom’s friend decided to become a therapist after practicing law — for 15 years.

It’s never too late to change your mind. And if at the end of the day you decide your dream is to open a coffee shop or bakery, there’s nothing wrong with that.

I think that lawyer I met was right. We’re too young to grow up just yet. Do what you have to do for a few years, even if that might mean living in a tiny one-room apartment and waiting tables. If your dream isn’t to be a trust officer or consultant, that’s OK. If you think you might change your mind, that’s OK, too. At the end of the day, success is really how you define it, and “not knowing” is a perfectly acceptable answer.

Blair Dunbar is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].