On “Success”

I really wanted to write something tonight. So this might be a bit random at times. I’m committing to try and write something everyday. Because even if nothing else in my life is going right, at least I’ll have consistency, I’ll have something to look forward to. And I’ll still have myself. So that’s nice.

As the period of waiting for grad school is coming to a close, or at least I sincerely hope so, I’m struggling to find words to express how important the past year has been to me. It has been, without a doubt, the hardest year of my life. I had to leave people I loved. I moved across the country and back. I left the only city that I ever really loved. I failed at a lot of things. I disappointed myself. I learned what true friendship isn’t, for one thing.

It has also been, without a doubt, the most incredible year of my life. I learned how to take care of my body and mind. I learned how to be proud of myself. I spent so much time with my best friends my last semester. I learned how to spend time on myself. I learned that it’s more than ok to spend time by yourself. I became tougher. I learned how to bounce back from the disappointments and simply do better the next time. I learned how to be honest with myself and face the consequences of my actions. I learned more about myself than I ever could have imagined. I reached some of my goals. Each time I thought I wasn’t cut out for this career path, something in myself brought me back to reality.

People seem to define their own successes by what the norm is — if you fail or if you don’t get there, you’re such a screw-up. And people seem to think that the faster you can do something, the better you are. It seems to be such a defining factor on how good of a person you are. The faster you can get results in the gym, the better. The faster you can fill water bottles with ice, the better. Granted, I have an insanely competitive spirit because growing up, that’s all people ever did around me. So I adopted that, which has been great for some things, but awful in other parts of my life.

I was so competitive. And I worked really hard when I wanted to. So I worked hard in water polo, because it was my outlet and the one place I thrived — compared to my friends and my sisters, I didn’t feel nearly as smart or pretty. So I saw everything in life as competition, and when I was “bad” at something, I didn’t try to work on it (and I thought I was bad at so many things, but I wasn’t really. I was just disillusioned), I just threw myself into the things I could be good at. I started to believe that my outward performance mattered more than my inner workings — my speed, my strength, my intelligence — and that it was all performance-based (I mean, yes, these things are important. But they’re not everything). It wasn’t how much personal growth I could achieve, because who could ever see that? It was always about the results. So when I didn’t get into school the first time, I felt absolutely crushed and embarrassed. I didn’t consider that my life could get even better down the road.

I’m just trying to express that the way we view success in this day and age can be so detrimental. And of course, being raised in the Asian-American community has been a huge factor to the thought patterns I have to this day. My family was always different and always challenged the typical Asian values, but that didn’t protect me from everything. I was still surrounded by friends who had unhealthy pressure from their parents, other friends, and themselves. It was like this black hole. You were just sucked into it, and the worst thing was that you didn’t seem to notice until you left that environment. And when you left, you never wanted to go back.

For obvious reasons, people view success as reaching some sort of goal — whether it be money, friends, relationships, etc. And that’s totally okay! It’s so great to have friends. It’s great to be smart. It’s nice to have money so you can do fun things like travel the world and eat steak. I’m just saying that you never need to put all that pressure on yourself. Because most of the time, no one is putting pressure on you to achieve these things. My parents definitely wanted me to get into grad school, and they were disappointed I didn’t, but out of everyone, I think I’ve been the hardest on myself.

So what I’m saying is to definitely set goals and succeed at them — and keep trying even if you fail a few times, but also… feel successful in ways that you don’t always have to share with everyone. Be proud of yourself for being tough, for growing stronger through failures, even if no one can tell. And most importantly, learn how to make mistakes and grow as a person. Because that’s the other half of my personal definition of success. Sure, you can perform better on the outside, but can you humble yourself? Can you accept your failures? Can you be kind to yourself and others? I’m not sure how to put this into words…but I hope you see what I mean. Success isn’t just what’s on paper, it’s WHO you are and what you can truly say about yourself, your beliefs, your values.

I’m very ready to healthily move on from this disappointment. I will never forget it, but I’m slowly learning to view it in a different light. Yes, I failed at my personal goal I set, but I gained a lot more knowledge and passion for life and my career. Now I’m still waiting for that one person to just take a chance on me. That’s how I got my internship in Utah, I imagine. When I applied to grad schools, I had the same exact resume, but my personal statements were so…lost. They didn’t represent my true self, because I didn’t even know myself! I had no idea what I truly wanted in life — or what truly mattered. I think the way I spoke about my passions and my interests in my cover letter must have made the difference, because at that point I had a wake up call — “hey, figure this out. Because you failed. This is reality”. And once I accepted that, I could try again.

So it would definitely be nice to say I’m actually going to grad school…but knowing that I’ll actually get to learn, grow, push myself and make a difference really excites me. It’s not about the title or the puffy jackets, it’s that being a “grad student” can do so much for my personal growth and my career, AND I get to help people develop as athletes and, well, people.

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Jen Xu

Jen Xu

Athletic trainer, coffee lover, looking for a hobby I don’t have time for. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.