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COLUMN: Be careful what you sacrifice for success



My professor gave a lecture last week over epistemic privilege or some other theory for 75 minutes, then my fellow classmates and I left and went on to our roughly fourth class of the day. 

It can feel like we are just going from lecture to lecture, constantly pressing repeat. Our days are spent in a slew of classes, and our nights are spent reviewing for those classes. We get so caught up in future success that we sacrifice present happiness. 

I recall one of my professors noting he had a particularly stressful week and another telling us that he reluctantly stayed up all night working and researching for a new project.  

He noted to us a bit of advice along the lines of: “Get plenty of sleep — you will never know what happiness is like until you do.”

Yet, as another semester progressively trucks on into its seemingly endless routine, I often find myself well-accompanied by strangers at 2 a.m. sitting in the West Tower of the Herman B Wells Library, the South Lounge of the Indiana Memorial Union and various other notorious study spots around campus.  

We are constantly grinding toward far-off goals. But this simply cannot be the happiness that life is about.  

We all have midterms coming up.  We didn’t do as well as we had hoped on our last paper and have to write this one better.  We ignored our advisers by taking too many classes with lofty academic aspirations that will likely change next semester.

We are told: “Those are just the sacrifices necessary to succeed.”

But success and happiness might not strictly lie in becoming a tenured professor and a successful, renowned researcher or a wealthy businessman on Wall Street. 

These are all drenched in sacrifice — a word college students know too well. It’s the high school experience stuck between the ends of a textbook, the good grade in lieu of the escapade and the intrusion of academia in our adventures. And the truth is that sacrifices never end.

We don’t have to aim for a future that will make our present so grueling.  

We dreamed of being happy as children. Now we day-dream of getting some rest at night at all instead of worrying about our next exam. We know the truth of sleep – it is more beneficial than all-night studying. 

What we need to find for ourselves is the definition of happiness rather than success.  

Aristotle defined happiness as the ultimate purpose of human existence, which is found at the end of the life-long series of goals we set for ourselves. And thus far our battles have seemed to be logical; these give-and-takes may not be considered sacrifices at all because we are striving to achieve a life-long goal and doing what we love.  

I am often tempted to subscribe to this ameliorated reality. I find myself looking at life through tunnel vision, aiming toward nothing but a professional goal, missing out on what is around me.  

Many of us will burrow so deep in nothing but work, hoping for a light at the other end, but the light may never come. I am striving to enjoy life while I can.  

One day we may find ourselves too invested in an unreasonable definition of success to ever be happy. Instead, find your definition of happiness, and see if you’re living it.

etasmith@indiana.edu

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