Now that I have a daughter, I am reflecting on happiness and hope. Growing up, I believed that society took the high aspirations of my generation and turned them into unrealistic expectations, but now I see that many of the challenges I’ve faced in life were from a lack of expectation setting. Some of the most important lessons I hope to teach my daughter are the things I wish I could have told myself when I was younger.
1) It’s OK if you don’t get into your dream school at 18:
It’s not easy to be a high school Junior and to spend the majority of your life focused on the tests, applications and the overall prospect of getting into college. Despite the pressure of seemingly all of your adult interactions asking about your future, it’s important to remember that your life is not “over” based on whether a committee decides that they should admit you into their university at the specific age of 18. Many of the top schools are highly selective, but allow transfer students to apply year after year. Some schools even give you a better chance of gaining entry as a transfer. At the end of the day, your future resume only says where you got your degree from. It does not say, “First-year spent here, Second-year spent there, etc.” Work hard, make the most of wherever you end up and remember this world is full of opportunities and that this will not be the last.
2) Find Internal Happiness:
If you listen to those who say that education is the key to happiness and success, you may graduate and not feel immediately happy, or successful. If you pay attention to the endless number of negative events and stories in the media, it can bring you down if you don’t have internal positivity. We often make it seem like wild levels of success can happen very quickly, but fail to realize that it takes time for many of the things that matter. If you are saying, once I get this, I’ll be happy, or once I achieve that, I’ll know that I am successful”, then you will be searching for the idea of external happiness, instead of the incredible accomplishments you can make each and every day. Write down a specific list of goals and try to look inward to define your true happiness.
3) Praise in your early career is very rare:
When you start your career, you are not likely to find immediate and worthwhile praise in your organization. In school, success is measured by report cards and by moving on to the next grade, but in the real world, even minor promotions generally take a minimum of two years, and rewards often go to employees who have truly transformed their organization over a sustained period of time. Additionally, even the most seasoned employees often receive marks like Successful or Successful plus, instead of Excellent on their performance evaluations. Workplace satisfaction is at a low for many in my generation, however, we must remind ourselves that there is always the chance to be an innovator who works on transformative ideas and concepts. In fact, many of the world’s innovators were rejected over and over. If you feel passionate about something, do it for yourself, not for the praise of others and you will see that what tremendous impact you can truly have.
4) Create your own definition of success:
The world bombards us with the idea that we MUST seek out and attain major accomplishments quickly and it’s telling us to do it while we are YOUNG. You might fall into the idea that you must avoid being “off track”, but try to take a moment to think of the people in your life who you admire most and why you admire them. Is it solely because of what they have accomplished? Or it because of the time that they have spent with you? We often seek out the idea of being accomplished for the purpose of proving our success. But we forget that the greatest gift you can give someone is your time. If you maintain your hope, you can be special because of what you mean to someone else. As long as your heart is beating, you are never off track.
5) Dreams do not arrive on-demand:
The best way to get started running is not to try to “make a certain time” but to focus more on “beating your personal best”. Focus less on worrying about what everyone thinks and focus more on maintaining healthy relationships with those who matter. So much of happiness comes from accomplishing goals, but that requires that we set incremental goals that are increasingly achievable as you navigate your way through the process. You can’t save a dream, or replay it, or catch it next week. A dream is a story that must be experienced first-hand, with an ending that can only be ruined if left untold. We need to have dreams, because we need to have things in life that are not handed over with the expectation that one day, we will be able to obtain more. Whether you are living the dream, working to live your dream, or just daydreaming, the simple fact that you have the opportunity to dream at all makes life great.