Culture, Life, Leadership

What I Wish I Had Known About Success

“College is the best four years of your life!”

I heard this statement over and over before I began my freshman year. I’d hoped it wasn’t true. I walked into college with an immense desire to make an impact on the world. The idea of those four years possibly being “the best” four years of my life left me with grave fears that my life after college would not be meaningful or worthy of the greatness I desired.

I was attached to the idea that I had to DO something to matter, and that idea wormed its way into every aspect of my life.

The beginning of college came, and I dove completely in. I even applied for a camp that let me move into the dorms early so I wouldn’t miss a possible opportunity. I signed up for any club I could find, joined Greek Life, Student Government and so much more.

My life soon became a blur of meetings, classes and events. I was laser-focused on setting myself up for success. When the opportunities came to step into leadership positions, I didn’t stop to ask myself if I had the time for the position; I simply jumped at the chance. I was seeking accomplishment and success in whatever way I could find it.

All of this culminated in the opportunity of a lifetime: serving as Student Body President for my 30,000 classmates. This position granted me the opportunity to discuss higher education with world leaders like the Dalai Lama, to have a final signature on a $24 million budget and so much more. It was like being the CEO of a $24 million company at 20 years old, all while being a full-time student.

This was the first position I ever held that I was truly passionate about, and it gave me a platform to do good for my fellow students who had elected me to the position. But I was so focused on being a great president that I let all the other elements of my life fall to the wayside.

Thereafter, my life started to unravel. I was working 50-hour weeks on top of classes, sleeping four to five hours a night, neglecting friendships and struggling to maintain my status as an A-student.

I didn’t realize how far down the rabbit hole I had gone until the end of my term as president. For the first time in what had been a long pursuit of success, I was alone with my thoughts — and what I realized frightened me:

My attachment to doing had made me believe that I was defined by my successes.

This lie had manifested itself in many different ways, but here are the biggest three:

1.     I was completely unfulfilled in my success and constantly looking for more things to fill the hole I had in my heart.

2.     I had made accomplishments the most important thing in my life, so I was okay sacrificing the things I needed to prioritize like my relationship with God and my values.

3.     I was concerned all the time with other people’s perceptions of me. Since I believed my successes defined who I was, other people could easily look at what I had done and say it was not enough, which in my mind meant was not enough.

I realized that all of the success in the world would still leave me unfulfilled. I had been pursing a relationship with God for a while — but this epiphany helped me let God into every corner of my heart. As scary as it was, I finally gave up the reigns and gave God control.

The old belief that I was defined by my successes was rooted to the much deeper lie that I had to do something to earn God’s love.

But here’s the truth: There is nothing we can ever do to earn God’s love. It is a free gift that He joyful gives us. As the Catechism says:

“God infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength” (CCC 1).

We were not created to do things. We were created to be in union with God.

This grand purpose of being in union with God is where my desire for accomplishment was coming from. Ultimately, that desire was a good desire for greatness that had been twisted and distorted by our world.

That’s right: A desire for greatness is good and holy, but it has to be rooted first in our identity as a beloved son or daughter of God. God created us for greatness, and He knows the deepest desires of our hearts. Allowing Him to have the reigns of our lives does not limit us; it is the only way we can be truly fulfilled!

Let me be clear. I am not saying that getting involved and doing things in college is bad. Serving your community and being a part of different things can be beautiful and even a way to give glory to God. The distinction lies in why you are doing it.

What are you placing your identity in? Is it your major? Your Greek chapter? Your résumé? Or is it in being a beloved child of the King?

I promise you the only thing you can place your identity in — what will truly fulfill you, last the test of time and help you become the saint you were meant to be — is being a beloved son or daughter of God.