Defining “success” after university

I’ve now entered a stage of my life where grades simply don’t exist. After 17 years of homework and tests and exams and bands and marks and grades, it’s all over. Since graduating I’ve been filled with a mix of pure joy and sheer dread at the fact that I no longer exist within the realms of academia. On the one hand, I’m beyond excited to never have to refresh Turnitin again. On the other, where will I get my validation from now?

As is the case with most new graduates, I’ve felt like I’ve been living life in limbo.

There are about a million reasons for this: I no longer have a pre-made schedule of lectures and seminars, I no longer live with the people I’ve seen on a daily basis for three years straight and I’ve gone from working 100 mph on a dissertation to suddenly being stood still with no real goal. The overarching question has been, “well, what the hell am I going to do with my life now?” Without the strict markers of success that education provides you (we’re taught to believe that the higher the grade we get, the more successful we are as students), I just didn’t know what to head towards.

I needed someone or something to tell me what to do everyday. And what’s the best way to have our expectations (read: limitations) set for us? Listen to society! So, that’s just what I did. I fell back into society’s expectations like they were a snugly comfort blanket and I wrapped myself up in that shit. My need for structure meant that it was out with grade boundaries and in with “respected job, lots of money, nice car, huge house, perfect family”. I started looking for jobs as soon as I graduated, caring more about how much cash they would provide me with, how quickly I could get them and whether they would impress anyone.

I know. It was a very “off brand” period of my life.

Luckily my love of self-help books saved the day again. I picked up a copy of Emma Gannon’s new book “The Multi-Hyphen Method” and, within the first few chapters, I felt like it put everything back into perspective for me. In it Emma talks about how much “success” should vary from person to person, depending on what fulfils them and brings them joy. So, whilst there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a Rolls-Royce with wads of cash used to fill the seat cushions, there is something wrong with only wanting that because you think you should. Success doesn’t have to mean being rich (though, for you, it can); it also can be about health, well being, family time and the chance to pop to Aldi whenever you damn well want to on a weekday. Okay, maybe that last one is just me.

At one point Emma suggests creating your own pie chart of what success means to you at this moment in time. She says to note down anything that makes you feel balanced and joyful, to put those things into categories and then weight those categories based on how important they are to your well being. For example, having family time might make up 30% of your complete “success” circle. And viola, you’ve got your own pie of success. I like to imagine that mine is apple and blackberry to make it even more appealing. Here’s what it looks like:

I realised that, for me, having the swanky job and the big pay check wasn’t nearly as important as having time and freedom. This exercise highlighted that, ideally, I’d love a job that was a work-from- home role, eventually hopefully for my own little business. I want to be able to travel when I want, to spend time with the people I love away from work emails, and to be able to afford to not worry about how I’ll pay my rent. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with getting a less than ideal job to support myself. I’ve done it before and I’d do it again. But this exercise wasn’t about refusing to partake in a life that isn’t perfect. It was about creating some goals tailored especially to me for, erm, possibly the first time since I was 4-years-old and started school. 

This doesn’t mean that I’ve got a precise plan of action now, but I’ve certainly got a hell of a lot more of an idea of what I want out of my life. That’s a pretty huge deal for someone who wasn’t even sure how to function without my weekdays scheduled out for me! At the moment I’m embracing this new yardstick for success that I’ve created by applying for remote writing jobs that inspire me and would leave me feeling creatively fulfilled. Let’s see where it takes me.



  1. Lucy Cole
    September 8, 2018 / 10:35 pm

    I love the idea of this pie chart, and I've definitely experienced some similar feelings myself since graduating. I might have to give that book a read. xxLucy |

  2. Augustin Ra
    September 11, 2018 / 2:25 am

    I was in third year of college when a company already offered me a job after graduating and even though I won't be looking for any jobs, I still felt that I'm not successful. I took months of vacation before reporting to the company and I had these pictures in my head of what my success should be. And right now, I feel successful that I earn now for a living, I already have money so my cat can live a luxurious life (hahaha), have more time with my family and most of all, with myself. I was able to maintain a fitness routine without fail despite having an 8-hour work. So far, I felt successful in my own simple way. 🙂 Augustin Ra | Indie Spirit

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