Expanding v. Entrenching: A Re-Evaluation of Success
During my first couple years of college, I spent a lot of time trying to understand why so many other students simply didn’t try hard at school or take every opportunity thrown at them to build their resume.
I’ve always been career-focused, an over-achiever. My definition of success has always been very external. I always sought out big success, and by this I mean career-oriented success, success in the eyes of the “others.”
When one of my peers admitted, “I’d be fine with a B or a C, as long as I pass,” I’d cringe and wonder how one could willingly shoot for average. Last year, I began to realize that these people-—who are complacent with average grades, who don’t go out of their way to get involved on campus, who go to work and perform averagely before heading home for the night to catch up on their favorite TV shows—maybe they’re actually seeing something that I’m not.
I kept trying to expand, expand, expand, like some human version of the solar system. But this philosophy only works for a while before you get spread too thin. “Too much bread and too little butter,” as one of my old roommates always used to say.
I learned to recognize the value, not of expansion, but of entrenching. I like to call this philosophy one of “deep subjectivity” where you aim not to be looking to cover more ground, but the dig deeply into what you already have and pull out gems: relationships with your friends and family, time to spend on your own interests and hobbies, time to just slow down and think, to go for a walk by yourself on a lovely autumn afternoon.
Because the truth is: our resources are exhaustible. Truly, none of us have time to do it all. Every choice you make has opportunity cost in which you have to sacrifice something else. If you choose to watch three episodes of Breaking Bad after class, you have to accept that this directly takes time away from something else. Our system is a closed one in that each force exerted inevitably will have an effect on something else.
This basic fact of nature is something I’ve always struggled to rein under my control. I still often delude myself into believing that I have time do it all. Truly acting based on your own values rather than the values of society is hard work.
I still find myself utterly bent on getting A’s, even when I know my time could be on something else I hold to be personally fulfilling. This happens because I have a particular image that I want to uphold for others, but if this is not truly representative of your life goals and values, then this self-image becomes a half-empty facade.
What this means for the real world is: in order to be famous novelist, or the rocket scientist, or the professional athlete, besides having genuine talent, you will likely also have to make sacrifices. This may come at an interpersonal cost, or it may come at a personal one.
Maybe the reason we’re not all movie stars isn’t because we couldn’t be, but because we’ve decided that there are more important things to life than big, corporate success. Maybe it’s time we re-evaluate success in terms of our own values and small community.