I have not lived for that long. I haven’t even seen my quarter-of-a-century birthday yet. I definitely have not figured out “what I want to be when I grow up” yet. But I do understand that my life is not actually about me.
That may sound overly optimistic, exceedingly naïve, and pompously self-sacrificing, but if I had one piece of advice for 22-year-old me, it would be to focus less on the benefits of personal accolades and more on increasing the success and well-being of others.
As a successful business student, international traveler, and amateur artist I fully understand the value of receiving compliments and honors. Being recognized for doing a good work increases self-confidence and excitement to continue to pursue interests and passions. However, the real honor comes from inspiring and encouraging other people to have a positive impact in the world through my words, actions, and convictions.
When I graduated from my undergraduate studies at the age of 22, I absolutely did not imagine all of the opportunities that would come in the next two years. The societal pressure I felt as I crossed the stage in my cap and gown was to find an entry-level job and work my way up the corporate ladder as soon as possible. Instead, I road-tripped my summer through the Midwest to visit family and friends and then enrolled in a master’s program in a foreign country. I did not pursue success in the avenues that I felt were expected of me, but I did enjoy life learning from the people that I love and exploring a new area of study. At the age of 22, I anticipated that significant societal contribution was only possible after substantial personal achievement. Two years later I graduated from the master’s program, traveled twice to volunteer in the Dominican Republic, and publicly installed a piece of original art. To me, this is proof that despite the fact that I have yet to land an entry-level job, my post-22 experiences have been full of opportunities to live a meaningful life.
It is really easy to get wrapped up in catering to my own needs, pride, expectations, and desires. But, I have found so much more fulfillment when I am able to set aside my personal issues and concentrate instead on opportunities to help others, whether that is through constructing a child development center or sharing experiences over a cup of coffee with a friend. Often life doesn’t make any sense in the immediate moment, but it always eventually unravels to clearly explain why things happened the way they did. In retrospect, I needed that summer road trip to soak up family time I wouldn’t have for the 11 months that I lived abroad. Two years ago, I wish that someone told me to concentrate less on being a successful individual and more on being an interactive and productive human.
When I consider that I live on a planet with over 7 billion people, the weight of my personal success is completely minimized. The best of my best will never put me on top. I have learned that it is pointless to spend time and energy advancing my own greatness and far more fruitful to contribute to societal advancement. There are endless opportunities for me to make positive impacts as an employee, friend, volunteer, consumer, voter, explorer, etc. as long as I remember that life is the most meaningful when I recognize that it is not actually about me.