Categories: A Teenage Story

Sereena Kumar


By Sereena Kumar

I used to think that success had to be something that you could hold in your hand. A shiny blue ribbon that you could frame on your wall. A transcript teeming with a long line of “A’s” running down the page. I defined success not as a feeling, but as an object. As I emerge out of the competitiveness of Junior year—luckily in one piece—my one-dimensional thinking of what success really looks like has shattered.

Throughout our tumultuous Junior year, my classmates and I have been bogged down by the constant worry of what colleges will see when they look at our whole life story compacted into a single 200-word essay. Will the golden word of success form in their minds when they review our accomplishments? Or will they see the word “failure” written in big red ink? The colossal shadow of this mysterious institution steals away what success means to us. It is a thief of the satisfying feeling that flourishes in our hearts when we accomplish a worthwhile goal.

My first step of redefining success began with course registrations towards the end of Sophomore year. It is a well-known fact, especially in my school, Enloe, that Junior year is the optimal time of dumping a pile of AP classes onto your schedule. When asking my friends why they chose so many AP classes, they responded: “I don’t know. It’s an addiction to sign up for so many AP’s.” They themselves do not know why they are following the crowd and caving in to the pressures of “academic difficulty.” Therefore, they do not feel the satisfaction of being academically challenged.

This accomplishment no longer brings out the warm feeling of success because 4+ AP classes per year is a norm set by prestigious universities. Determined to follow my instincts on what I felt success means, I only chose the AP classes that I knew I would enjoy. The feeling of success was no longer attached to what grade I received—it was attached to the pure joy of learning, quenching my curiosity on how the world works.

Even my failures are attached to a feeling of success; after I take a step back and look at the big picture, I see them as a launching pad for my next big achievement. They may not lead to instant gratification right then and there, but later down the road, these “obstacles” will pay off.

I went in for my first group interview for a leadership position as a timid 9th grader. At the time, it didn’t seem worth doing the interview because I surely wouldn’t stand a chance next to the long line of compelling applicants. I came out of the interview with sagging shoulders and a distraught look plastered on my face. Nevertheless, I told myself that this interview would not be a wasted opportunity. I talked to one of the upperclassman candidates who had a knack of procuring answers on the spot that reflected the faith she had in herself.

This year, with an open mind and new knowledge in mind on how to amplify my skills, I walked into another group interview. I managed to secure a leadership position while telling myself I was that cool upperclassman who I had asked for advice in 9th grade. Ultimately, success came little by little, not all at once. Moreover, blocking out people’s perceptions of me stammering and clambering in my 9th grade interview helped rephrase the question, “Do they think that I look like a successful person?”, to “Do I think I am a successful person?”. 

I owe the shift in my thinking on what success means to my mom. She constantly reminds me, “If you are proud of what you accomplish, it will show on your college applications.” It’s always about how you present yourself and the extent to which you believe in yourself. You can either write about a tremendous accomplishment while downplaying it, or you can charge your high self-esteem into your writing to highlight your success.

If you stand your ground and hold your head high, you don’t give anybody an option to doubt your abilities. I know my worth and that value is more than that of an “A+”. College applications are now looming, I aim to take back what success means to me – not allowing societal pressures to confine its meaning to another number on a transcript.

Sereena Kumar is a junior at Enloe High School and has a passion for writing. Contact: [email protected]