This week, Team Awesome came together with a common cause: to prove how “success” can mean a lot of different things. Each of us is writing our own personal interpretation of it, you can check them all out under #GLsuccess.
For me, “success” has always sounded like a Happily Ever After; an ending. And that’s where the issue lies for me, because other than death, any ending we experience in life is also a beginning. Life is cyclical.
This post has been sitting cold and heavy in the pit of my stomach ever since we decided to have a team-wide theme. The truth is, success is not a word I associate with myself often. I’m not particularly competitive (except with myself), and I rarely win anything.
As I mentioned last week, past Jasmin’s priorities were way off the mark. Past Jasmin thought success came from being thin and blonde. Past Jasmin thought success came from having and keeping a boyfriend. Past Jasmin thought success was hiding her depression. Past Jasmin thought success was being anyone else but herself.
I’ve always been very naturally bright. As a child, my reading age was double my actual age. I applied for academic scholarships with very little preparation, and was accepted. I received offers from every uni I applied to. But for some reason, none of this made me feel good about myself in the way that I thought being blonde and skinny and bubbly and coupled would.
And so I set about trying to change myself.
I taught myself, naturally quiet and introverted, to be loud and sassy. I would fall into panic if I didn’t understand something right away, so in subjects like Maths and Science, where things didn’t quite click, I was too ashamed to ask for help. Instead, I would pretend to understand or talk in class. I would go home and study in secret, trying to teach the material to myself.
Throughout high school I chipped away at the things that made me Me. I would make jokes about my religion, being the only Muslim in my school. I was friends with people from almost every friendship group in my year, but I spent more and more time with the ones highest in the social food chain, with whom I had almost nothing in common. I listened to music that I didn’t like because other people liked it. I obsessed over how to dress to disguise my body shape. I clung onto the first boy who ever showed me attention because I truly, fiercely believed that he was the only one who ever would. I lost sight of my achievements: I was always floating around the top in my year for English, Religious Studies and History, I excelled in languages, I was mostly well-liked, I did a Marketing internship at the Royal Albert Hall (who actually used my writing on their website and in their programmes!), I was training as a singer and excelling, but none of it felt good to me. I still didn’t think I was successful. It was an act of violence against myself.
This is painful for me to admit to myself, much less the internet.
So now that I’ve shared with you some of the more personal parts of my past, what does this have to do with what success means to me?
Since I don’t believe that success exists as an end goal, it exists in my world more as incremental successions. In other words, success exists in my world as growth.
It took a long time, several fresh starts and a move across the Atlantic for me to start following the breadcrumbs back to my true self. I did a lot of healing during my gap year, and I arrived at university passionate and determined to get straight Firsts (or, for the Canadians among us, straight As). It was an attainable goal, and at the start of first year it looked like a cake walk.
GUESS WHAT: it didn’t happen. Long story short, everything that could go wrong, did. Suddenly everything I had worked so hard to regain and my shining goal of an eventual Masters from Goldsmiths seemed impossible.
I didn’t get all firsts in first year, but I did get some. I passed all my courses, including the elective that I taught myself entirely from scratch in five days. I clawed my way through stacks of Renaissance poetry and linguistic analysis, and I came out the other side. It wasn’t the goal I set out with, but I’m extremely proud of myself.
I’m learning that success doesn’t often involve standing at the zenith of your dreams. Success is flexibility and adaptation. It is a success that I am even in third year, because the last two years of uni have been riddled with difficulties I didn’t see coming. I very nearly dropped out. I very nearly gave up. It was a success that I woke my mum up in the middle of the night in July 2014 and told her I needed to transfer to a Toronto university or I wouldn’t make it to graduation. For me, a person who has always been too ashamed to admit defeat and ask for help, to do that? That is a success.
Success, to me, is:
- no longer being embarrassed to eat in public
- no longer comparing the size of my thighs to every other girl in the room’s
- no longer compromising the things I am/enjoy for others
- making an effort to care for myself
But as I said, success to me means growth. I have a tattoo of a lotus for this very reason: lotuses grow out of murky water and float above the surface. They are symbols of overcoming obstacles without being bitter.
Success to me is this:
- making active effort to be more empathetic, gentle and kind to myself and others on a daily basis.
- when I asked my friends, pre-job interview, how they would describe me, they all said empathetic, gentle, and kind.
Success is not a Happily Ever After, success is an ongoing effort. So success is not having a boyfriend anymore, success is nurturing a relationship with a person I love, and success is the ways we help each other to better ourselves. Success is not getting straight As anymore, success is finding the joy in learning and enjoying my final two years of my undergrad (and, y’know, getting a Masters degree. Probably.).
Success is growing, learning, letting go of our inner saboteur. One of my writing heroes puts it best:
We are lovable beyond what we can produce … We think that a degree will like, set us up to be profitable bodies … Yo, it’s cool that I go to Princeton and like, that’s dope but that’s not where my value comes from, bro. At the end of the day I create value in communities that I care about” — Joshua Bennett
In many ways, my biggest success is this little blog. Glendon is a community that I care about, and since I’m not the type to be on a school council or run a club, my way of bringing value to our community is to write about it, to tell stories, to be at the open days and university fairs to help people figure out if this is the place for them. Last Sunday was Fall Campus day and I met so many awesome people– some of them I had met back in September at the Ontario University Fair. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, and I somehow landed my dream job in second year.
Ultimately, all I can tell you is this: success is what you make of yourself. If you’re trying, you’re succeeding. Even when it feels like you’re not.