6 Things No One Told You About Success (Or, Lies My Parents Told Me)


We of the twenty-something generation seem to be turning the world on its head.  There is much talk among the older generations about how much we don’t understand about the world, or about how annoying and entitled we behave.  While there is a certain amount of truth to that sentiment, I’ve always found it interesting that the very people who raised us now spend so much time criticizing our behavior.  Where exactly do you think that we got these self-important ideas from?

At any rate, we now have a group of people, affectionately dubbed the “Millennials” who currently comprise 27% of the population of the United States.  27%!  That makes us the largest generation in existence.  But with that power comes a great deal of responsibility.  With those on the tail end of our generation coming of age to vote, graduating high school, etc., it’s time to examine some of the things we think  about success and being “grown ups” in a new light.

Spoiler alert:  your parents have been lying to you.

We’ve pretty much all been given a goal of becoming “successful” as we’ve grown up.  Most of us have been told that we need to go to college, find a good job, settle down and start a family, etc.  This is the basic recipe for success.

Imagine our surprise when, at twenty-something, we finally learn that this is not some magic formula.  Instead, most of us are in our mid to late twenties still trying to figure out what we are going to do with the rest of our lives.  Some of us are at home with our parents, some of us are working job we hate, some of us are just stuck in the muck… and some of us are still optimistic and hopeful about what life has in store for us.  It is my hope that all of us remain hopeful and optimistic, but it is becoming more and more obvious that we’ve got some pretty messed up ideas about success.

Therefore, I’ve compiled a list of six things no one has told us about that elusive thing everyone is trying to get to.  Some of these may not apply to everyone, but I’m pretty sure most of us can relate to at least some of these.

  1. – Success looks different to everyone

That secret formula I gave you earlier (college+job+family=happiness)?  Not necessarily true.  That may be the proverbial American Dream that people strive for in theory, but in actuality, success means different things to different people.  More importantly, your definition of success may change over time.

Five years ago, when I was 22, success to me looked like owning a home.  So, at 23 I purchased my first house.  That worked for a while, but as I grew and developed, so did my definition of success change.  Now, at 27, success means being able to come and go as I please and define my life on my own terms.  It’s different for everyone, and it will be different for you as you grow.  It’s important for you to know that’s okay.

  1. – LOANership =/= OWNership

Going back to the success formula, most of us have been told that a key component of that is to get a good job, buy a house and a car, and do other things that grown-ups do.  DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT fall into this trap, if you can help it.  This is a lie perpetuated onto us to keep us in debt and therefore dependent on a job.  That’s how our capitalist society works.

It’s important to note, though, that having things and owning things are two completely different things, and if you have to finance something – whether it be a home, a car, or something else entirely – you do not own that.  You own the debt attached to it, and the collateral property (the car or the house) is only yours once you’ve satisfied that debt.

  1. – A college education is optional

I know, I know.  It’s every parent’s dream to see their kid go to and graduate from college.  A college degree is a status symbol, and one that most people tell you that you need in order to be anything in this world.

They are lying to you.

Truth is, having a college degree doesn’t differentiate you from any of the rest of us, and honestly you’ll probably wind up owing Sallie Mae and Direct Loans more than you’ll ever earn in a single year with that bachelor’s degree.

There’s a reason they call it a B.S.

You’d be better off spending that money on a two year degree from a community college (because technical careers are the fastest growing fields in today’s market – trust me, I’m a career coach), or simply investing in yourself and your ideas.  And if you’re going to get a degree, please do it in something practical (like business, or education).  They meant it when they said you can’t get a real job with a bachelor’s in English or Art History.

4. – You can be anything, but not everything

I grew up in the bossom of the most supportive mother in the world.  As a mixed kid coming of age in a small Alabama town, it was important that my mother instill in me a sense of confidence and purpose.  She always told me that I could be anything and everything I wanted to be when I grew up and, foolishly, I believed her.

Now, please understand that I am not criticizing my mother.  I appreciate her confidence and support, because it is what has made me into the fearless woman I am today.  The problem is, though, what she told me simply was not true.

I could (and have) grown up to accomplish many of my goals. But, I’ve also had to learn along the way that I simply cannot achieve them all – some require sacrifice from others.

So, yes my friends, you can be anything you want.  But you cannot be everything you want.  You can be the first woman on Mars, or the scientist that cures cancer… but you probably won’t have a strong family life at home.  That’s because time is the great equalizer – we all have the same amount in each day, and no amount of money can buy us more of it once ours has run out.  The challenge in this life is to figure out as early on as possible what is the most important, and to do that for as long as you possibly can.

  1. Good manners will get you farther in life than knowledge ever will

One of the biggest criticisms of our generation is that we don’t know how to “pay our dues”, and to some extent, this is true.  I watch my coworkers sometimes and notice how often we tend to write off older people because they don’t understand how to do things as quickly and efficiently as we do.  We are a generation of digital natives who have never known a time when the internet was not directly accessible in our homes, and we seem to have a great disdain for doing things the “old fashioned way”.

Listen to me.  Stop. That. Right. Now.

I’m not entirely sure where we got the idea that we don’t need old people anymore because we know everything there is to know about everything, but we need to take a step back and realize that our elders have made it to where they are on more than just luck.  Respect for them is not dead, and while I could most definitely argue that there is also a lot that we can teach them, it is important for us to learn as much as we can from them as well.

Be respectful, use your manners, stop talking so much and learn something from someone who has already been where you’re trying to be.  I promise you won’t regret it.

  1. – You aren’t special until you do something special

Part of the reason that we have a reputation for being such an entitled group of people is because we all seem to expect a reward because we showed up.  That’s because we’ve grown up in a time where kids get participation trophies as a consolation for not performing well enough to win.  And while I’m all for encouraging the spirits of children, I have to say that this practice does nothing to prepare us for the realities of adulthood.

One of the hardest things about the quarter-life crisis is the realization that you are not actually as special as your parents have always told you that you were.  The truth is, there are millions of us Millennials walking around out here, each no more or less special than the next.

The thing about growing up is that we have to realize that we are not special because we exist.  What makes us special is what we choose to do with our lives.  Committing to live a life of purpose (whatever that means to you) and contributing meaningful things to the world around you is what makes you special.  No one cares what you think or how you feel – they care about what you’re doing and what impact that has on the world at large.

I could go on and on about things Millennials need to know about life (and I will – later), but the biggest thing I want you to take away from this is that we are all just making it up as we go along.  Truthfully, we’ve been underprepared for the world that we now face, and that isn’t all our parents’ fault.  Even if it was, spending time focusing on that won’t change what we are doing now.

We can’t go backward – we have to keep pressing forward into this unfamiliar land known as adulthood.  It’s important that we realize, though, that there is no such thing as a magic formula for success.  Success comes from hard work and dedication to yourself and your ideas.  Success comes from perseverance and authenticity.  Success comes from within you, and it is whatever you decide you want it to be.

Go out into the world today and do great things – but more importantly, go out into the world and do good things.  Go do something that will make you feel good about yourself and where you are in life, and let’s not worry so much about fitting into society’s definition of success.

There’s only one definition that matters at the end of the day anyway – yours.

~ Kio


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