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Redefining Personal Success in My 20s

Until my 20s, my definition of personal success was tightly wrapped in the hopes and dreams other people had for my life. When it came to school, personal success looked like getting straight A’s, getting accepted to a big college away from home, and majoring in a study that could guarantee an excellent job.

When it came to my social and professional life, personal success looked like being available for friends whenever they needed me, being a shoulder to cry on, and always doing things to keep the label of “good friend.” It was landing an internship every year that could lead me closer to a real job. It was constantly adding professional people to my network.

I hadn’t realized that the key to personal success was deeply rooted in going after the hopes and dreams that fed my soul. As I approach 25, I’m taking the time to consider what my early 20s have meant for me--what lessons have I learned about personal success? What’s been the turning point in how I defined this success? And what will the rest of my life look like since I’ve defined personal success in this way?

It’s felt like my early 20s have been spent shoveling myself out of the tunnel of normative social influences. Each time I deny the pressure to conform to what a young woman in her 20s should be experiencing, I dig myself out of this tunnel and make more room for the real me to exist. I dig my way out of the expectations that say:

-keep the same friends from childhood

-attend and graduate from a big, out-of-state college

-go to graduate school

-work a full-time job

-move out of your parents’ home after college

Mindfulness is the gentle enforcer that encourages reflection and appreciation. Reflecting on my heart and soul’s true desires, I’m able to appreciate where I am in life. Personal success is a direct correlation to how I feel about my choices, not anyone else.

My 20s have shown me that personal success is connected to my ability to unlearn and relearn lessons. And this commitment to making space to learn again has brewed emotional turmoil that, ironically, leads me to a clearer vision of what’s real, of what’s---mine. Mine. That is something my 20s teaches me a lot.

My 20s put the ‘personal’ in personal success. Every choice and every action in my life is a personal one that feeds my need to do things that make me happy. And to work toward the “big day” where I fulfill all my dreams and relish in achieving ultimate success simply doesn’t exist. Because life, as I’ve learned in my 20s, is full of many successes--both big and small.

Life is meant to be celebrated every step of the way. No moment is more worthy of celebration than the next. When I realized this, I stopped having good days and bad days. Each day, each moment, each laugh, each cry, each heartbreak, each rebirth are all part of my personal success story. Redefining what success looks like allowed me to celebrate every step of my journey.

If I had to write a guide about achieving personal success in your 20s. I’d simply say,

Work a full-time job, or don’t. Have lots of friends, or don’t. Live with your parents, or don’t. Live in an apartment. Buy a home. Rent a home. Read books about the things you love. Watch movies that make you cry. Talk to people that make you laugh.

Question everything. Explore new places in your city. Volunteer. Donate. Serve. Serve you, then others. Get angry. Be confused. Do something you’ve always wanted to do. Do it scared, do it alone, do it unappreciated, do it nervously, do it unprepared--just do it.

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