Growing up I loved school, I think because the rules of the game were clear. In the ninth grade I raised my hand to speak when called on, declined social invitations for study sessions and worked hard to churn report cards that reflected my effort. I thought I'd decoded the game's playbook and knew how to win: achieve high marks, secure a good job, and happiness follows.
The year I graduated, college front-page headlines screamed "Recession!" and I found that a B.A. alone didn't promise employment. Applications asked, "Do you know anyone at the company?" I left those sections blank.
Packing my independence into an orange striped U-Haul, I drove up the California coast to my parents' house, where the bright purple walls of my childhood bedroom greeted my regression. I accepted an unpaid internship in San Francisco, a part-time hostess gig for pocket change and by night poured myself into cover letters for jobs that never called back. I felt increasingly deflated.
At month five I recognize in a dusty corner of my mind an unused power; the ability to choose my own response. Why see job rejections as verdicts of my worth or delay happiness for a title? Energized, I assign myself projects and set deadlines, enroll in free online courses to patch my skills and find renewed joy in volunteering.
I've since learned that happiness isn't bottled in a fancy job title, that success isn't some shiny prize at a competition's end. To me achievement is measured not in titles but in growth, and my yardstick is now marked by values.