Here's How 13 Young People Define Success

April 20th 2015

Laura Donovan

Every few months, it feels like there's a new "30 Under 30" list, celebrating young individuals with exceptional professional achievements. It's an honor to be recognized, but success doesn't have to be defined solely on workplace accolades. It's job satisfaction, finding a loyal life partner, enjoying a concert with friends, maintaining healthy relationships, or developing fulfilling hobbies. So as a helpful reminder to not get bogged down in a narrow view of success, ATTN: asked thirteen young people how they define the word. Here's what they had to say:

Success comes from contributing to a better world:

"I ask myself how I can give back. As of late, that has taken the form of feeding the hungry, and other forms of charity work. While this lands me far from financial success, I have located the crossroad where my passion, marketable skills, and education all cross. I seek to teach English as a foreign language in the Far-East, or wherever that help is needed. My personal success has never been about money, I just want people to be happy." -Zachary York, 27, Educator in Training, San Diego, California

"With global warming, escalating global conflicts, and incidents surfacing around diverse cultures and backgrounds, we are facing many changes because we are evolving. Success to me is taking ownership of challenges that arise from this and contributing to their solutions ... Success is setting and achieving personal goals- whether they be related to family, career, or personal growth." -Karin Espinosa, 29, Instructional Coach, YES Prep Public Schools, Houston, Texas

Success comes from small pleasures in life:

"I think it's taken me a long time to realize that success — at least for me — is a daily checkpoint. How am I feeling today? I had coffee and got a great interview with a great source. Fantastic! Did I book that plane ticket for my vacation this fall? Yes? Awesome! I think upcoming generations are starting to realize that. There has been a definite shift in what we view as the 'American Dream.' That white picket fence is gone. Now, it's a tiny-house with a steady source of income — not just a meaningless, punch-the-clock job." - Melanie Schmitz, 29, Writer, Wisconsin

"People seem to lose sight of the fact that there's a swath of intangibles that go with [success], like waking up being excited about your job and being loved by a lot of people. I wake up every day knowing I get to go work for a great company filled with even better people who I love being around. I then get to come home to an amazing woman I'll be marrying soon enough and a family that may be more heartwarming and hilarious than the best sitcom families around." - Chris Becker, 26, New Jersey
"To me success is doing anything a younger or different version of myself would be shocked by ... I consider my year a huge success because I did things like move 850 miles by myself and lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere Tennessee for a month. Those two things alone would've sent a younger me running in the other direction." - Gabby LaRue, 25, Writer/Recruiter

Success is independence:

"Success to me is being able to fully support oneself in health, financials, and happiness without relying on anyone else." - Keely Spadafore, 27, Dental Hygienist, Sacramento, California

Success stems from balance:

"Finding personal success would include a variety of factors such as: working in a challenging position where I feel respected and valued for my contributions, supporting and growing a company whose products and corporate goals I feel confident in, having a work-life balance that allows me to contribute to my community, and most importantly, raising a strong, respectful daughter and being a devoted wife." - Lindsay Hartman, 29, Corporate Sales Coordinator, Fort Wayne, Indiana

"Developing a trade or a specialty, and maintaining and making new friendships ... Throughout my life my friends have been a motivator for me, and helped me through some adversity. I think friendship and relationships are so important, especially nowadays when society seems to put a premium on digital life. To truly grow as a person you need to be out, having conversations, shaking hands, maintaining relationships with people." - Nick Paige, 28, Research Analyst, Washington, D.C.

Taking pride in achieving your goals:

"[O]ne of my biggest successes thus far has been earning my doctorate of optometry in 2014. Getting to this point in my life has involved a lot of sacrifice and perseverance. Eight total years of college, moving out-of-state for optometry school, taking on enormous student loans (let’s just say the amount could buy a house in most parts of the country), countless exams and proficiencies, moving to a different state every three months for clinical rotations in my last year of school … these are all examples of the difficult things I had to do to reach my goal. In this type of situation you can only hope that by the time you reach the light at the end of the tunnel, it is just as bright and beautiful as you thought it would be. To me, success is not defined as having a finished product or a piece of paper to show for your hard work ... Success is being able to take pride in your goal and the process it took for you to make it happen." - Crystal T., 26, Optometrist, Oregon

"I've known for almost a decade that I wanted to end up in the death care industry. In addition to my deep fascination, I always felt that I needed to do this type of work because not many people are able to stomach it  ... Sometimes I'm the last person who gets to care about the deceased and sometimes I'm lucky enough to witness a family commemorating their loved one. Overall, I'm fortunate to be able to say that my work is truly my passion and that is what success is to me. I figure if I can love my job, success and happiness in other areas of my life will come easily." -Lauren Rosen, 25, Crematory Operator/Cemetery Grounds Keeper, Detroit, Michigan

Success ultimately comes down to family and happiness:

"[M]y mom told me when she went to her 10 year high school reunion, everyone asked each other the same question: 'What do you do for a living?' I could understand the pressure my mom and her fellow classmates felt if they didn’t think they seemed quite where they needed to be. Last year, my mom went back to her 35th high school reunion and she said it was the best reunion she’s ever been to [because] nobody asked what you did for a living or bragged to anyone what they were up to. [It] was all about having a good time in the company of great friends and making incredible memories ... Living a happy and healthy lifestyle defines where you should be and once you are there, success will be with you forever." - Kelly M., 25, Los Angeles, California

"[My definition of success] changed as a result of becoming a bit disillusioned about what had been my 'dream job.' Now I understand that a meaningful career can happen outside of NYC or DC ... I had also used to think success had nothing to do with money -- but with parenthood that too changes ... So success for me is about being a good husband, supporting my wife in raising our son, being present for my son, and providing for him, i.e., making enough money (I still work at a nonprofit, so it's clearly not about making a ton of money). Because while I am replaceable at work, I am not replaceable as Calev's dad. Calev doesn't know I'm a public interest lawyer, and getting home in time to play with him and feed him and read to him and bathe him before he goes to sleep feels like the most important thing I do all day." - Aaron B. Zisser, 34, Attorney, Berkeley, California

"I started early on in my adult years assuming that I would move to Los Angeles and become this famous actress or singer, at least that was what I hoped for. Early in my 20s I fell in love and by 23 I was married. I spent my 20s in Chicago, being a wife and mother, with hopes of moving to Los Angeles. In 2012, my husband, 3 children and I made the move to L.A. and we’ve never been happier. In my 20s, success to me meant how much money we could make and perhaps a house we could afford ... I have to say success to me is having 3 children who are happy, healthy and kind ... Success to me is not being stressed about where my career is going and being happy when I have time to do the occasional stand-up comedy show. And as cliché as it sounds, mostly, success to me is being a good mother." - Angie Grace, 34, Writer, California

What millennials want in a career:

Many of the work-related responses above are consistent with a millennials at work study done by professional services network PricewaterhouseCooper's. The study surveyed 4,364 graduates across 75 countries and revealed many young people would rather gain professional and personal skills than take home a big paycheck. Millennials also value flexible work schedules over big bonuses, according to the findings.

"This generation are committed to their personal learning and development and this remains their first choice benefit from employers," the report states. "In second place they want flexible working hours. Cash bonuses come in at a surprising third place."

Dan Schawbel, founder of millennial research firm Millennial Branding, told The Daily Beast in 2013 that young people want to "make an impact on day one" at work. "[Millennials] want workplace flexibility, to be able to work from home," Schawbel said. "They want an entrepreneurial culture, they want that innovation, and they want their voices to be heard."