Unbeaten path

Success cannot be dictated by society, but sometimes this truth is only as strong as one’s convictions.

In the second year of my first undergraduate degree program, I made a decision that most, if not all, college students seek to avoid: to get delayed.

Deciding to transfer to the University was a long process of many difficult conversations with my family, friends, and mentors. But the most challenging conversation was the one that I had with myself.

Most people who decide to shift or transfer do so after a year or less in their program. In my case, it was after a year and a half. Looking back, I realize that part of why it took me so long to decide was because my pride wouldn’t allow me to entertain the possibility of getting delayed. It wasn’t until I took a step back and reflected on my priorities that I got to settle on a decision. I had to admit to myself the mistakes I made that led me to where I was. I had to believe I was still good enough for what I wanted, even when I didn’t feel like I was. I had to be willing to take the risk of having things harder than I did back then.

From childhood, society conditions us to believe that the sooner we get rich, the greater our success. It has imposed upon us an unspoken timeline that we all race to meet, which comes with an undeniable pressure to exceed expectations. Because of this, we become so fixated on finding the recipe for success, we become obsessed with staying on the “right track”. It stigmatizes those who shift, transfer, or take leaves of absence (LOA) and immediately writes them off the list of productive or respectable people. 

I know this because I used to think the same things about delayed students, including myself. I was also afraid of being judged by my peers, and I started to doubt my capacity to make sound decisions for my future.

I know now that transferring, shifting, or taking an LOA isn’t a sign of weakness or failure because it takes so much bravery to go off the beaten path. It is never easy to admit that something doesn’t feel right anymore and that one needs to overhaul their career path. Nor is it easy to continue chasing after a dream that takes longer than most to fulfill. It is often heartbreaking to see our peers several steps ahead of us. No matter how many times we hear the adage, “Life is not a race,” how many of us actually end up believing it?

We need to repudiate the notion that success has an expiry date. In the first place, success isn’t something that the world can define for us because the world doesn’t know our stories. Success is something only we can discern for ourselves. And, as we grow and evolve, so too does our definition of success. 

We may not have the power to control everything that happens in our lives, but we can control what influences our judgment. We cannot build a future out of our own fragments that are left after we’ve offered everything to do what we think society demands of us. When all is said and done, success isn’t about the time we spend trying to get to where we want to be. It’s about living a life that’s meaningful for us. 

Personally, I’m just taking things one step at a time and enjoying where I am because there’s nowhere else I can be. The most I can do is make the best out of every day and keep the dream alive. The future I dream of may unfold inchmeal, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. 

Emmanuelle Castaneda

By Emmanuelle Castaneda

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