What is Success? A.K.A. My Journey of Fears, Doubts, and Self-Acceptance

In my eight months out of college, I’ve experienced a bevy of hurdles most people succumb to in today’s post-grad life. From the never-ending hunt for a stable job to figuring out one’s true place in society, it certainly screws with your head in numerous ways.

As a young twentysomething, there’s the inevitable pressure from loved ones to do something better with your life and push forward in order to succeed. But how does one define success in this hectic world? For some, it would be a job with a six-figure salary. Others view it as getting hitched at the prime of your youth and popping offspring right and left as if the human population was going extinct. As for some, success is somewhat of an indescribable notion comes within your soul.

For me though I never truly felt “successful” in any aspect because to be frank, I judge myself to a great degree and the idea of failure is absolutely terrifying. Yeah, yeah, there’s that old adage of “If you don’t succeed, try again!” but being raised in a strict Vietnamese household kind of nixes that philosophy in the bud. As a whole, it seems that most Asian cultures simply want their children to excel in the best at everything, graduate with a respectable job, and be dutiful and respectable to your elders.

Sure it’s a grand stereotype but some of the aspects hold true. If a child gets a B on a test, the parents will wonder as to why their son or daughter didn’t receive an A+ instead. If the child decided to go to community college before transferring to a four year university, then the parents would wonder why their scores or extracurricular activities didn’t allow their kid to get into a prestigious college automatically.

That was pretty much my life from elementary school up until today with endless comparisons on more “successful” peers who graduated from top tier colleges, have stable careers, and families for some of them. As for me, I was somewhat deemed a “failure” because I took the off-beaten path and didn’t pursue a career in the STEM (science/technology/engineering/medical) field according to my relatives and peers.

I graduated last fall with a degree with journalism and while that’s pretty much career suicide to most people, it’s something that I do enjoy. Telling people’s stories while enlivening others is an aspect of the field I truly love deep down. Let’s face it though, being a reporter isn’t the sexiest six-figure job out there and certainly my parents have their doubts whether or not I can make it. Even with their constant nagging and years of total pressure, I knew deep down they just want the best for me.

However with the oncoming pressures from life in addition to years of accumulated low self-esteem, I ended up in a giant slump. Things that I once loved became things that I didn’t want to touch because I felt that everything I did would turn into utter rubbish. From writing to sewing (a near and very dear hobby of mine), I simply didn’t want to do it. Despite this slump I managed to work a couple of jobs with decent income but in the end, they simply didn’t fulfill me.

With the slump slowly drowning my mental well being, even my relationship with loved ones took a strain because I was terrified of failing their expectations of me. Everything I made seemed so ugly and unrefined and I simply never felt satisfied. Bouts of depression gripped me with no mercy and at several points I’ve had nervous breakdowns. The slump was fueled by my hesitations, doubts, and fears within me and it grew stronger as the days went by.

Eventually, I had to snap out of it. It was tricky to shake off the slump because while it was a dark place metaphorically, it became comfortable for me to simply slip into it. Little by little, I started to branch out and do a bit of soul searching. Slowly I started coming out of my shell, picked up the activities I loved, and even expressed my true feelings to my loved ones. I admit, it’s not an easy process to escape one’s own demons but if you can’t do it then who will?

For some, success can be defined by one’s own name shining bright in Times Square. Others see success as being popular with people. As for me, my definition of success would be the idea of loving yourself despite the negative things life throws around. Then again don’t let me dictate on what that word means to you, dear reader.


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