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Stoimenoff: Success is what you make it

Trevor Stoimenoff, Columnist

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Success is what everybody strives for. Goals and aspirations are a universal aspect of society. They motivate us and drive us to keep doing better. We are conditioned to meet failure with positivity by understanding that we can and will do better next time. We are also taught to meet success with the mindset that we shouldn’t let it inflate our egos. These two ideals effectively create a balance that is supposed to keep us in the middle of the spectrum, not being too upset with failure, but at the same time, remaining humble and modest in times of achievement. But at a school like Northwestern, where stress levels are at an all-time high, how do these mindsets play into our daily lives? Is it as easy as it sounds to keep this balance in life, to not let our anxiety get the best of us when we are surrounded by people who are just as smart and as driven as we are?

Pressure is an aspect of student life that is rarely discussed. The terms “stress” and “mental health” are thrown around quite often, but pressure is a concept that is commonly overlooked. When you think about your motivations for choosing your field of study, personal happiness should be on the top of that list. You should be pursuing something that makes you excited for the future but also allows you to be happy and enjoy the present without a constant feeling of stress. Pressure is what causes you to stray from this motivation. It makes you scared for the future because you have been trained to believe that certain studies or career plans won’t take you anywhere in life, so you must abide by rules set forth by society. With this train of thought, fear wells up inside you, fear that you will disappoint your parents, fear that you will be going against the societal grain or fear that you won’t make enough money later in life. All of this stems from the pressure of craving success.

It is important to understand that accomplishments are not relative to anything. What society deems “successful” might be making a lot of money or having a great job, but in reality, success is what you make it.

Personal achievement isn’t what determines your life’s worth, nor is comparison among you and others. It’s hard to conceptualize this idea at a place like NU when it seems like people are constantly doing bigger and better things than you. Many of you have probably felt inferior to your peers at one point or another — I know I have. I see so many students joining student groups, pursuing majors and volunteering just because these things are expected of them or because they are under the impression that what they amount to in life defines them as a people.

I am guilty of this phenomenon myself. I recently realized that the path I was on wasn’t right for me, that everything I was doing was simply to check it off my list or add it to my resume. Luckily I had this epiphany before it was too late and I was able to change my major and pursue something much more relevant to my personal interests.

Sure, being successful in the commonly accepted sense of the term might make life easier. It might make other people respect you more if you have a good job or make a lot of money. But in the end, when all is said and done and nobody is around for you to compare yourself to, what will your accomplishments mean to you then? By succumbing to the societal pressure of being successful and pursuing something far different than what truly makes you happy, you might have avoided hardship and struggle, but you have succumbed to the pressure and gone in a different path than what you truly wanted. That, in my book, is not success, it is quite the opposite: failure. It’s easier said than done, but set aside others’ expectations for a moment and just let go. Try something new and understand what you can do to better your life.

Trevor Stoimenoff is a Weinberg junior. He can be reached at trevorstoimenoff2016@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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