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.

path career

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



  1. Beautiful written! Thank you for your vulnerability about the process of following your dreams.

  2. What beautiful words! “Success is an issue of the heart”.! I so needed to hear this! I am on the opposite end of this spectrum. I have been out of high school for 5 years. I got married, worked full time, became a mom, and the past year and a half have been recovering from a surgery to remover cancer. So I have been busy to say the least. But often feel like a failure b/c I have been wanting to go back to school (college) this whole time and haven’t managed to do it. I’ve been registered for classes several times and at the last minute something like finances would fall through. I don’t feel like I can justify putting my family in debt to do it. So I guess it will happen slow. But I often feel judged or inadequate somehow b/c I don’t have a college degree or am not pursuing one full time. But we must each define success for ourselves outside of societys definition. Thank you!!!

    Hannah/ @theblessedlittlelife

  3. Love it! It’s so important to follow your heart and do the things you love. And you can start any time, you’re never too old to pursue your dreams.

  4. This article is everything! Me and my roomie read it together and couldn’t help but relate. We go to a university where going to grad school is not only common, but it’s expected. We’re both writers and know this isn’t right for us. Awesome job and thanks for writing!

  5. I have had this conversation with several people now. I am grateful for my degree and for my parents for encouraging me to get it. I just wonder if it was really the best decision. Without college, I wouldn’t have met my husband, nor would I have my beautiful daughter. But I don’t feel like what career I pursued was really right for me, and I don’t think what was really right for me was something that could be learned in a classroom. I think our generation was one that was heavily pushed to go to college, and we entered our 20’s believing that we wouldn’t make it otherwise. But I feel wiser now for knowing that it does not make a person great. Thank you for this article and validating these feelings of mine!

  6. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m a person who followed my parents’ path to obtain an MBA. I decided to retire early from my 18 year career at a Fortune 50 company and use what I learned to help me run my own career coaching & consulting practice. Passion and purpose are so key to living your dreams. No regrets!

  7. After a lifetime of following the path of responsibility …getting married, having children, having a profession, staying past the point where that profession gave me personal satisfaction in order to attain the holy grail of my generation – a pension and health benefits for life; otherwise known as ‘having it all’, I find myself feeling so many contradictory things. Yes, I managed to give my kids lots of love; vacations twice a year that involved trips, lakes, oceans, mountains, etc. all this without leaving them with a sense of entitlement. At one time I regretted not getting a degree from college or a Master’s; but now I wish I had taken time to travel to places in the world I was so interested in; to continue with my poetry and writing as well as singing. I guess from the perspective gained after eight decades of living, I wish I had worked harder at doing the things that I wanted ..I could have carved out time for a class or two a year toward a goal of teaching eventually upon retirement..sharing all the things learned over those years of living. Because once you retire, your children have busy lives, and you have to figure out what to do for the rest of your life, you need the tools to be useful…..your body may be tired, but your heart and mind still want to be engaged fully with life and usefulness. At least, that is MY feeling! SO …..My advice to all of you in this quandary who are still in the throes of raising children -and probably working, too- not burden yourself with the loans and the haste ..get your education at a comfortable and less financially devastating pace..TAKE A BREATH – enjoy your time with your children and your personally enriching pursuits -rock climbing, ballet, cooking classes, little theater…It seems so far away, but before you know it 50 and then 60 and beyond are there..don’t put YOUR life off til then. Live in the NOW! Be prepared and ready to be living your dreams not yet fulfilled for those does not need to be TWILIGHT years; it can be full sunlight and joy and as fulfilling as you want it to be. You can do this!

    1. Thank you for sharing. I’m in such an awkward place right now (have a BS degree meant for continuing education and can’t get too many jobs without a masters or doctorate). Your words are reassuring. 🙂

  8. I’m so glad I read this. I graduated July last year and in between then and now I’ve occupied my time by traveling, working in retail and just trying to figure it all out. At the beginning of last year I applied for a Masters degree, but the couple of months abroad, I decided not to pursue it. I have days where I feel like a ‘failure’ because I’ve always excelled academically and had tutors, family and even peers suggest higher education as an unquestionable option. But I want to stick it out rather than rush into something just because life is a bit uncertain at the moment. I’ve learned to slowly come to terms with the fact that ‘success’ isn’t necessarily achieved through a checklist, as you say. I have no doubt in my mind that I will find my way eventually. And I now feel comfortable knowing it may take a while. I’m so glad to read that you chose to do what you love in the end!

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