Hear me loudly when I say that education is so very important. This isn’t about minimizing the respectable choice to pursue a college degree. If it weren’t for the scholars, then we wouldn’t have our doctors and lawyers, our teachers and architects. There is greatness in education, in learning to apply one’s talents in the workforce.
But this isn’t about those things.
This is about the awakening that comes when we realize that success is only as real as we define it. Parts of our world (like social media, movies and television) may have laid claim on how to be traditionally successful, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way.
My personal journey is bittersweet. As an elementary school teacher, there were many things about my job that were fulfilling and wonderful. Being involved in the educational upbringing of children is incredible work; I excelled at teaching my students in a way that was truly meaningful. The medical benefits were also great, my colleagues were practically family, and the calendar year accommodated raising my own kids, but my heart? My heart wasn’t one-hundred percent present.
My college-earned career was getting me through life quite simply, but merely getting through life was not the way I wanted to be living. I’d followed a path that had practically guaranteed me success, but there was a large part of me that knew I was failing myself. My feeling of failure wasn’t because I chose to get an education; it was because I repeatedly ignored the opportunity to step out and explore the true calling of my heart.
It took nearly eight years before that calling became too loud to ignore. Until then, there was a large part of me that was so loyal to the traditional trajectory of assumed success that I couldn’t see myself walking away. When I finally listened to the voice of my future, she roared: My student loan debt doesn’t define me. Age does not limit me. My past does not have to be my future. I could finally see with clarity that in the countless hours I spent studying, I could have been traveling. The time I spent researching, I could have been soul-searching. The mounds of debt that I accrued could have been borrowed for something of more value to me now than a prestigious piece of paper lost somewhere in my filing cabinet. To some, that piece of paper is everything (and rightfully so), but for me it was a transcription of my choice to let others choose my path in life.
The calling I had failed to hear for so long was perplexing, which is likely why I ignored it for a number of years. I knew that I wasn’t hardwired for the typical nine-to-five, forty-hour work week. I knew that my talent and passion were wrapped up in my ability to write for an audience. I thrived off unpredictability and challenge. I loved knowing that what I shared with others was raw and real and totally relatable. Being a teacher satiated many of those talents and needs, but it lacked the creative chaos that I craved. Writing brought life into my soul like nothing I had ever experienced, and I couldn’t ignore that any longer.
But how did I let it go on so long? What happened? After examining my heart for an answer to my discontent, it was astonishingly clear. You see, I had only done what was expected of me. Grade school, high school, college, then grad school. A life plan for following the hierarchy of education seems to be so heavily ingrained into the DNA of our society that I couldn’t envision any other way. I wasn’t able to see beyond the path of traditional success, and I hadn’t permitted myself to explore some other journey. Getting my degree in education meant stability. It meant that I would know what to expect upon graduating, that I would be entering a field that would allow me to provide for a family and better my own education along the way. It meant a retirement savings, and even more-so, a retirement age. I could literally see years into the future.
My feeling of failure wasn’t because I chose to get an education; it was because I repeatedly ignored the opportunity to step out and explore the true calling of my heart.
These are all honorable reasons to pursue a degree, reasons with merit and worth… but on my journey, they didn’t bring joy to my heart and meaning to my days. It was when I finally got the courage to seek out my passions, leave the classroom, and explore new opportunities that I developed a true understanding of what success meant.
I was blindly encouraged to plunge head-first into a world where I had earned the power of education, the promise that a career provided, and what turned out to be the predictability of the mundane. Many of you might have accepted this same path. So, I say to you: Whether you’ve chosen to pursue a college degree or embrace your talents a million other ways, success is an issue of the heart — it is a feeling — not an arbitrary checklist of accomplishments. It’s about looking inward and challenging yourself to come up with personal and meaningful reasons why you’re on the path you’re on.
Success happens when you live intentionally and with a purpose that makes your heart swell with passion. There is freedom to be gained in living the very life you dream about: a life with little regret and inexhaustible joy. Which path will you take?
How do you define success? Career or otherwise?
Images via Esther Baseme