Claiming Personal Success


Exciting news, folks — I’m done with my freshman year of college! And I’ve been indulging in the successes that’s brought, including awards and good grades and just time to rest up. That being said, I wanted to talk about something I’ve felt really odd about in the past few weeks.

Society raised me (and probably you, too) to be extremely productive. Why? To contribute to the world in a powerful way, or to leave a mark, or to be successful and live in an expensive house and wear expensive clothes. It wasn’t something I ever decided I wanted. I was just told to do more and be more. I never questioned it.

Today, productivity makes me feel good about myself. I knock out a few hefty assignments or freelance articles and feel a rush of pride for the work I did. I’m not saying that’s entirely unhealthy, and that’s not the focus of the blog post today.

I’ve been feeling weird because when I share my triumphs with other people, I usually get one of the following responses…

  • “I’m so proud of you!”
  • “That’s my [insert relation to me here]!”
  • “We did it!”
  • “I knew you could do it!”

These aren’t necessarily bad responses. Yes, I appreciate pride and celebration of my successes! But notice that in each of these statements, the person congratulating me is including themselves in the sentence. “I,” “my,” “we.” There is something wrong with this, and I’ll tell you why.

I was raised to be high-achieving. While I’m grateful that I’ve grown up to be a hard worker, I have always been the kid or friend or cousin or student who accomplished great things for the image of someone else. I am the good daughter who makes the parent look good. I am the smart friend who makes the friend group look smart. I am the well-rounded student who makes the class look well-rounded.

The people who pushed me to do well, although with good intentions, asked me to go above and beyond in a way that boosted their own image. “You’re such a good parent/friend/teacher, you have such a great child/friend/student.” This is unhealthy. I had a lot of weight on my shoulders to carry someone else’s image and very little time to examine what success meant for me. This is largely from a few sources, one of which was being placed in the “gifted” program as an elementary student.

I never felt that my achievements were satisfactory enough because I was surrounded by other “high-achievers.” I was sold the idea of high performance and being a childhood prodigy and competing for good grades. While there is definitely something to surrounding yourself with people above your skill level, there is something horribly wrong with telling a child they are better than other children and expecting them to excel at everything.

Being a “gifted kid” was something for my parents and friends and teachers to boast about. Everything I did, it wasn’t just for me to be proud of, but for society to applaud. This is why writing (although something I love) can feel less like my art and more like a chore of being. I constantly found ways to be “different” as a kid because I was tired of being placed in the “gifted” box.

People comment all the time about how humble I am. I think I come across as humble because I grew tired of expectations set on me as a child, not because I didn’t appreciate my own achievements.

Today, I have a problem with naming and claiming my own value and success because of this conditioning. People in my life have always wanted to claim my success first. I’m working on doing what I love for me, not for others, and choosing to own my success for myself and myself alone. A mantra I’ve chosen is, “Others do not own my accomplishments and never will. I choose my actions, and I claim the results.”

While it is a journey, it feels good to be empowered by my choices rather than to shy away from any praise. My skills and abilities are my own. I am proud of myself. I don’t need anyone to tell me that I’m awesome.

Much love,

-el ❤

media consumption and health


For those who’ve been following me for a while, you might know that I’m mid-way through my first semester of university. My primary area of study is in mass media and communication, and lately, I’ve done a lot of thinking on the kind of media I consume and how it affects me.

Every part of my education is completely online. Yes, I’m living on campus, but I’m going through posted video lectures, PDF readings, zoom discussions, and countless links every single day. I never realized how much of my education up to this point had been through face-to-face interaction.

I’m an independent learner. I like to take home information, sit with it, analyze it, and come back having understood it. From there, I can work with it and answer questions about it. I find it strange, though, that I’m struggling to do that same thing when all of my work is online. I feel that now, the only way I learn is by internalizing all of the media my professors and instructors throw at me. When you’re taking 15-17 credit hours, that can be quite a lot dumped on you.

Some of the positives, though, outweigh the negatives. Because my courses are loosely related, I’m able to link topics like identity to leadership practices and media studies. A documentary I watched for my American Identities class helped me communicate in a discussion led on sexual assault awareness. Online/synchronous learning allows you to do something we don’t have time for in physical classes: I can absorb the information, reflect on it, and apply it to the rest of my knowledge.

Every day, we’re spinning a web of the media we consume. How we feel about the information in our minds shapes how we perceive the world. If I only read my Twitter feed, my world will be all about Donald Trump (if you looked at Twitter right now). If I only watch Ratched on Netflix, my world will be spooky and badass.

But something I haven’t been doing, and something a lot of my fellow students aren’t doing, is stepping back from the media. How much can you consume before it becomes your whole world? Am I going to return for winter break, only to lecture everyone on how to diagnose a conflict and conjugate French verbs in imparfait?

There’s something to be said for academic immersion. I cannot relay how grateful I am to be in an environment where everyone’s priority is on learning and becoming better versions of themselves. My friends have big dreams, and they want to make the universe better, and I have so much respect for nearly every person I meet here. But we are not just our studies.

Social media targets mental health in such a positive way right now. It’s great! You can find any number of resources for hotlines, or how to practice non-fluffy self care, or mindfulness activities. What’s missing from the conversation is how the best course of action regarding mental, emotional, and dare I say physical needs is to rest. It might sound silly, but resting is the one thing we overlook when we ask, “how do I feel better?”

Current society (in broad terms, yes) prioritizes doing. Doing anything. So when faced with an issue regarding our health, our first reaction is probably, “what can I do?”

Listen well: there is nothing you have to do. Humans are so bad at intuitive healing these days. Honestly, sit down, feel your body, listen to your mind, let your emotions sit. Slow down. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is my body saying I need? How can I manage that right now?
  2. Are there thoughts in my head? Is there a way I can organize them?
  3. What am I feeling?
  4. Why am I feeling this way?
  5. Is there something wrong?
  6. Am I just fine, and this is a check-in?
  7. Have my habits changed lately? Is this positive or negative change?

If you don’t think you’ll answer these questions without biased, consult someone close to you. Often, the people who love us are the people who notice the most minor changes in demeanor. Maybe they’ll have something to offer about concerns or triumphs in your life.

Give yourself respect and love in trying times. Remember that it’s okay to feel kinda crappy. It’s okay to have things to celebrate, too. Allow yourself to feel and just exist, because you are human, and that’s all you can do sometimes. Much love.

-ellynn ❤