Monday, February 1, 2021

Redefining Success

Success is a matter of perspective. For some, success means money, power, and prestige. In truth, money, power, and prestige (and the never-ending pursuit of them) often do not bring lasting fulfillment or personal satisfaction because there is always someone who has more—more money, more power, more prestige.

In the law school context, high grades are considered a precursor for these common measures of success, which can lead some law students to define success in law school solely in terms of grades. As a metric, it is true that grades are important . . . and, as a law student, you should work hard (and smart) on what’s important. But what fulfillment or personal satisfaction do you really gain by framing success solely in terms of grades? Each achievement becomes transactional, with a fleeting moment of satisfaction followed by the swift return of a desire for “more.”

I read an interesting article recently that framed the relentless pursuit of success as people choosing being “special” over being happy. The author notes that, in pursuit of success, we may choose to sacrifice our relationships or even our own well-being. Despite such sacrifice, we do not feel sated . . . fated instead to feeling we are not successful “enough” and chasing the next success high.

As I read the article, I felt attacked thought about my time as a law student and how I defined success. Back then, for me, being successful meant having the highest grades and achieving all the things people told me were indicative of a successful law student (top grades, law review, judicial clerkship, etc.). I also wanted those things for myself but, at the time, I was more focused on why other people said I should have them (and what they would think if I did not). With each achievement came a hunger for the next one, and with each setback came devastating self-doubt and internal criticism. It was not until I was a bit older (and wiser) that I began to rethink how I defined success and prioritize what I needed to feel happy and fulfilled.

To the law students who may be reading this, if you see some part of yourselves in this post, I encourage you to think now about how you define success and to develop metrics for success that are meaningful to you. What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of law student do you want to be? What opportunities in law school align with your goals, needs, and interests? Begin the journey now of releasing yourself from the judgment and expectations of others and focus instead on what you need to feel fulfilled.

To the ASPers who may be reading this, if you see some part of yourselves in this post, I encourage you to revisit the metrics you associate with success on a personal and professional level. How do you define success for yourself? How do you define success for students? How might your definition of success affect the way you interact with students? Consider how redefining your definition(s) of success can increase your personal satisfaction and enhance your relationships with students.

(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)

References:

Arthur C. Brooks, ‘Success Addicts’ Choose Being Special Over Being Happy, The Atlantic (July 30, 2020), https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/07/why-success-wont-make-you-happy/614731/.

Sarah Lahlou-Amine, Defining Success in Terms of Satisfaction Starts in Law School, ABA Student Lawyer Blog (Oct. 11, 2019), https://abaforlawstudents.com/2019/10/11/defining-success-in-terms-of-satisfaction-starts-in-law-school/.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2021/02/redefining-success.html

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