Growing up, I was the girl who wanted to achieve. That meant several things. In high school, for instance, I wanted to learn French, but I decided to take Latin. Why? Because Latin would help me excel at the Sat’s. I remember the end of my freshman year of high school, a friend of mine, told me to “find out my rank.” Without hesitation, I marched into the library and asked the woman with the computer printouts, where I ranked in my class after one year of high school. I had gotten good grades but was a little surprised to hear that I ranked high in my class.
I believe that single incident is when the word achievement really took shape for me.
That moment in the library in the summer of 1987 provided me with the feeling of performing on Broadway. I really envisioned lights around my name. In my tiny world, achievement was most clearly defined by a number, a rank, a grade point average, a SAT score, and so on. And I lived true to that world I created. I graduated at the top of my class with honors in high school. For the next ten years after high school, I spent it educating myself and running toward what I thought was achievement. I obtained three degrees, a political science degree, a master’s degree, and a law degree all in the name of success.
I sacrified so much of my self during those ten years. Any deviation from a stellar grade point average, I would cry and deem myself failure. It was the number that motivated me, the success seemed so real when I got the good grade. Anything less, well, that wasn’t achievement. There were voices that whispered along the way that tempted me to try something different, something less “achievement” oriented like, a stint in the Peace Corps or a summer abroad or a class in musical theory. But I ignored those voices, because I was building a resume.
During much of those ten years, I never took a break. I never reflected. I remember my now husband telling me, after I graduated with my undergraduate degree, to take a year off to really decide how I wanted shape the rest of my life. I didn’t listen. I told him that it was a waste of time to take a year off and that I was on track to graduate from law school and become a lawyer by a certain time frame. All in the name of running toward achievement.
It’s been almost four years since I’ve actively practiced law, the remnants of that life seem like a skeleton of my previous self. All those years of running and I am not even practicing in the career that I deemed an achievement.
I spent more time running, rather than listening.
Now I look back at those times and I ponder, what was I running toward ?
I’m not completely certain. But what I do know is that I have the tools to teach my daughter that she can run, but she needs to listen to her own internal whispers, the ones that may tell her to deviate or explore.
That’s the definition of true achievement.
How do you define achievement? Do you agree that society pressures us to think of achievement in one particular way?