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What Does it Truly Mean to "Make it" Or Be "Successful?"

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an article on LinkedIn about letting go of what other people may think of you and pursue your heart’s desire in life. It was about a young person who gave up an all-expense-paid scholarship, and dropped out of college to pursue her dream. One of my connections posed a few questions about her decision (and my post), including: How did it work out? Is this a strategy you would recommend to any college student? Did her decision prove to be worthwhile, and if so, how?

Here was my response: You pose intriguing and important questions. Let me preface my thoughts by noting that no one should read the post and get the idea they should go to or quit school. The central idea, to the extent there is one, is that one should conduct a personal self-examination to figure out who they are, so that they can do what is theirs to do in life. The decision a person makes depends on their situation. We all are unique with distinct life paths.

Did she make it? If make it means she reached a predetermined level of financial success, then the jury is still out. This former college student is still early in her process as an entrepreneur. If financial success is the measuring stick, we don’t know if she will make it. She may not make it, if her success is compared to what might have happened had she stayed in college, taken the traditional route, and attained financial wealth, status, and prestige – often accepted as measures for success. Even if she does not make it, she believed it was important to live without regrets and she wanted to “go for it” rather than live a life of quiet desperation and not being true to herself.

I recall an interview that comedian Dave Chapelle gave a while back. He shared that both of his parents were/are college professors. He went on to say in his comedic style, he was the first in his family who was not a slave who decided to skip college. Dave’s dad said the entertainment business is a lonely business, and he might not make it. Chapelle’s response was that it depends on what you mean by make it and if he could make the salary of a schoolteacher, he would consider his life a success because he would be using his unique gifts. Needless to say, Dave makes more money than 99% of the U.S. population by doing what he loves. He chose not to take the safer predictable route that others in his family did and simply did not go to college.

Perhaps part of the message of that young college student’s journey is that we should take another look, redefine, and reframe what success or to “make it” means. Last year, Charles Ruhig wrote an article in the New York Times Magazine entitled “Wealthy, Successful and Miserable.” It was about Harvard Business School alumni who had graduated 15 years earlier. They were, by all objective evaluations, successful – they’d made it. They were (among other things) head fund managers, owners of successful firms, and corporate leaders. However, a number of them were miserable and experienced acute dissatisfaction with what they were doing. Some claimed they thought their life lacked meaning. Not all of them felt this way, but more of them did than you might expect. It could be that my post brings up the notion that we reevaluate what’s truly important for us in life, and what it means to make it. Maybe it’s calling for us to have a re-evolution of those values. We all have to determine what success means for ourselves. Just a few ideas to think about.

Peace and Blessings,


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