I come from Woodstock, CT. The area that I live in is wealthy, upper to lower middle class and homogeneous. I had never had a friend that was gay and there were all of two African American people in my middle school. I went to an international high school. The local day student population was predominately white though. There was little diversity of the looks of the people, although that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t diversity of opinions and thoughts. It’s not that everybody fit one certain mold, but there were many similarities in the people that I interacted with. These similarities included these people being members of nuclear families, living in large houses with additional property and also having 2-3 cars per household. This background information is important to provide because it informs the audience what “success” is defined as in the area that I come from.
In addition to this understanding of the families in Woodstock, I must admit that I went to a private preparatory high school. I have to acknowledge that I am among a minority of individuals in the United States who has been granted certain privileges because of capital advantage and white supremacy. Among these privileges is that I can attend a private school that offers exceptional academics and extracurricular activities as well as an overall wonderful high school experience. Moreover, going to a private school gives me greater prestige over brothers and sisters of mine who share the same skin tone. (Please do not think that I am bashing my high school. Without my high school, I wouldn’t have been pushed to the new limits that now define who I am. My experience at high school was phenomenal as all the students and teachers treated me very respectfully.) There is a lot of talk among friends of mine from my private high school and another private high school in the area that they are annoyed by individuals at their school who brag about how much money they have. I’m not supporting those who do brag about their money, but I would also argue against those who see themselves higher than the “richer” kids because they don’t brag about how much money they have. The reality is that if you are able to attend a private school in the Northeastern part of the United States, you got mullah. But, I used to do the same and gossip about those people who would brag about their money. So I guess we are all in this together. All that being said, I come from a background of private school education, from a predominately homogeneous area composed of people who live in nuclear families.
The tone of this writing might seem as if I am criticizing this lifestyle. My intention is to not criticize this lifestyle. My intention is to point out that a person’s background influences their understanding of the definition of “success.” The definition of success that I have heard over and over again throughout my childhood starts with going to good elementary, middle and high schools. In those schools, there is the expectation to get good grades. In addition, there is the suggestion to participate in extracurricular activities, such as sports and clubs. At my high school, it was a requirement to do sports and was highly highly recommended to join other clubs. In addition, community service was integrated into our school schedule. I think having us do community service served three purposes: to promote the name of the school, put “community service work” on one’s college resume and also to get people interested in a lifestyle filled with service, which could eventually translate to future philanthropic service. If the athletics, academics and community service was performed well, one might have a chance of going to a good college. At that college, there is an expectation to act similarly to how one did in high school. If that checklist is completed, one might be able get a good job or go to grad school to then get a good job. After getting a good job, one might be able to start a family and buy a house and maybe a car or two. Sounds familiar? It’s cyclical.
I want to be wary of how I talk about this definition of success as I also seek to maintain respect for this lifestyle and the people who enjoy it. If there is criticism that needs to come as well, that is for a different discussion than this one (as there are many other conversations that need to occur such as racial and economic equality). The point I would like to make though is that there are many definitions of success. The definition of success that I just discussed is one of many. The one that I have always heard is specific to the region that I come from. But, there is the possibility that the definition of success can be very different for a black woman living in the south side of Chicago. I will never ever understand what her life is like and will not be able to understand what her goals for the present and future are. This is a refreshing realization because of the fact that I am so saturated in the one definition of “success” that I previously explained. It’s relieving to know that there are many avenues to success than the one that I have always heard. I feel that this definition of “success,” which might hold weight for some people, lacks depth for me. Getting good grades for the purpose of getting a good job so that I can buy stuff just doesn’t sound too exciting to me. My proposal is that each one of us should be seeking our own personal definitions of what success is. A professor of mine said that the religion of America is success. I agree with her in that we are a society bent on making capital, inventing new things, and working until our asses fall off our bodies. Many times, our macro or micro environments tell us what we should think success means.
I have found that in my hometown and in my school (as well as other places that I have visited) that there is this social expectation, whether vocalized or kept silent, for someone to fit a certain mold and to accomplish certain things. I am suggesting the idea that success is relative. I don’t know what my success looks like practically, but I do know it involves art (because everything is art), minimalism, passion, love, sex, intimacy, family, friends, traveling, hardship and suffering. The things that society tells us to be are not inherently bad. But, if I am trying to make myself to be that type of person they tell me to be, my life is going to be super boring and is going to suck. Some people are going to be amazing business men and women one day. But, not everybody is meant to be a business woman or a business man. There are some who can engage in that life as an art form and use business to promote ingenuity and uphold equality. There are other people who are meant to be parents of nuclear families who will have an amazing marriage who will manage their household like a boss and have a wonderful family. But, not all of us have to be business people and parents of a nuclear family. Truth is, I might end up living a life that includes some of these elements, such as having a family or driving a car. At the same time, I want to derive from the conventional success story. I want to engage in the different opportunities that are given to me and step out and step into environments that are drastically different from the one I came from. I want to get lost in that lifestyle for a while and learn about what they define as happiness and success. I want to be in constant exploration for what I find is valuable and not just accept what the greater U.S. society tells me what is valuable.
To read Pt. 2: What is Success? Pt. 2