Could a, would a, should a ...

Ponder This

T.R. WilliamsJune 11, 2013 

With a new class of seniors graduating — Congratulations Class of 2013 — I find myself wondering how many of them will look back 20 years from now and wish they had taken a different route. If I had a dime for every time that I reflected on my choices thinking only if I had done this or done that ... I could retire well off.

Why is it that society leads us to believe that regardless of what we accomplished it is simply never enough? I can't recall a time this wasn't the norm. I must admit even I have fallen into this deception myself more than once.

Having a propensity for worldly smarts and creativity never earned me the praises in school that my straight A cousins received simply memorizing answers on a quiz. Thankfully I was raised to celebrate not only successes, but my efforts as well. Society often fails to appreciate the creative strengths of individuals, even refusing to encourage growth that stimulates such creativity. Rather than being embraced for individuality, understanding that we all learn differently, we are pressured to conform. In turn, many of us waste years striving for someone else's idea of success, losing touch with that which stirs us, rather than encompassing those talents that await discovery within us.

Don't misunderstand, I am all for advancement and cultivation. Even at this age I am a student of an online college furthering my education. I am the prime example of how the four year route is not for everyone. With the unlimited options available to us the sky is the limit, that is if we don't simply mass produce a new generation of cookie cutter 'success stories,' as success comes in many forms.

My step daughter is the perfect example of the societal pressure to fit into the mold, and how it can shape ones future. As a youth she helped me at my gift shop. She had a knack for helping people. She loved utilizing her natural born gift for customer service, and how my patrons loved her. I mentioned to her several times how well she handled herself and that she should remember this when it came time to choose a career path.

I know you are thinking I was just pleased to have the help, but as a veteran retail manager, I know what I speak of. I recall her struggling after graduation with where and what to study, and that we would have to mortgage our ranch to subsidize her. Such misery that she exuded imagining the overwhelming drudgery ahead. She sadly was looking to her future with dread. I helped her navigate the minefield of stigmas, encouraging her to find her true passion, hopeful that she would never look back on her life with regret.

For creative people school can be a drain on the spirit. I am sure more than a few of you are wrinkling your brow at these words, but please hear me out. If we observe each person as an individual, help their spirit shine, then each can flourish rather than being stifled by societies deception that only a four year degree insures success.

Though she didn't choose the four year path, she has a job she loves making good money. The greatest part isn't the money though ... it is the glaring fact that she followed her heart and didn't give in to pressure. After all isn't happiness the true measure of success?

Those cousins of mine spent between four and eight years hitting the books, earning degrees that left them each well more than $50,000 in debt. One of which never utilized their education, her diploma merely hangs decoratively in her home. Yet another was unable to find work for years after graduating, struggling to survive on minimum wage, beneath the burden of those student loans.

Could it be that we measure success by too narrow a standard? Wouldn't you agree there is a level of personal achievement merited in doing what one truly loves after all? In listening to your inner self and following ones hearts desires, often we end up finding what brings fulfillment against all odds.

Imagine a world without musicians, artists, singers, and actors — A world without the B students, without high school drop outs — Though I don't recommend it. Imagine life without Henry Ford, Peter Jennings, or the wildly successful director Quentin Tarantino. Imagine the world without Wendy's founder Dave Thomas, without the music of Tom Petty, or the incredible Johnny Depp. The world as we know it would not be the same if high school dropout Walt Disney hadn't chased his dream.

So here's to narrow thinking being a thought of the past, to knowing you can do anything that you put your heart into, even without a four year degree. Reach for the stars, no matter what stage of life you are living. We only travel this journey once, why not make the most of it. In the midst of all the structured chaos find your own measure of success, and above all else find what makes you happy.

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