The Measures of Success

American culture demands that college students experience immense personal growth during their education. Under such external pressure, how can we make our time and growth at Amherst meaningful? It can feel as if the worth of our education is often framed as dependent on how much we change or how much we learn. While the pursuit of growth is an admirable ambition, we should be cautious of obsessing over volume and should remain critical of what our growth actually looks like. What are the indicators of development? Who chooses those indicators? Too often, we fail to set our own standards of achievement, aspiring instead to an image that is not of our own making.

It can be difficult to take our own desires seriously. When we find something we are passionate about and begin a large project — perhaps a thesis or a long research paper — we want to invest our whole selves. We want to believe that we are doing quality and important work. We strive to make our thoughts matter. However, there is often an afterthought that seems to trail such intense work, a voice that questions whether we are creating anything meaningful. We look at the work or the achievements of our friends, and feel as though we do not match up. Or that, somewhere, someone has already said all the thoughts we have said, that no thought of ours is original. To stay with a long project, we must engage with these doubts. To move forward, there must be an effective way to regain self-confidence.

To be clear, we should not fall in the other direction, either. Excessive pride, entitlement and belief that our thoughts are more important or more original than others are also dangerous habits. Remembering our own uniqueness is important step, but there is no need to elevate our individuality above those of others in the process. We do not need to be the best among others, only the best and most true version of our individual selves. While at first this might seem like an antisocial way of thinking, it is exactly the opposite. When each person draws from deep within their selves, we as a group are better prepared to meet each other on an equal and transparent playing field. We are neither pretending to be anyone else nor putting on airs as disguise. To be oneself is to be vulnerable and more open to others.