Letters To My Freshman Self: On Creating Success
Updated: Apr 1
You promised yourself that you would be successful.
You lived with the steps laid out for you your entire life, never questioning who’s passions you were fulfilling by following this generic path to success. But that doesn't have to be you.
Congratulations, I know you are still in shock about your acceptance to the University of Washington. It will take you another few years before you truly understand the gravity of this achievement.
To you it feels like the hometown school, to others it’s their dream school, a Top Ten intellectual powerhouse waiting to transform them from mediocre to (something really great).
In your mind, you’ve reached the peak. A first-generation college student, navigating the far too murky waters of SAT scores and college applications. Always trying to figure out the age old demographic dilemmas of “do I pick Black or Hispanic - why does it only allow me to pick one?”
But you’ve made it... Well at least to where you thought you were supposed to be.
And now as you prepare for your freshman year, you are struggling to determine what “success” looks like. You no longer have a plan. You no longer have clear goals. It's uncharted territory and you are so afraid of making a mistake. You fear people will see your inadequacies and ultimately leave you for them.
Mariama, what is success to you?
Is it a certain GPA? Is it making a particular number of friends? Perhaps it is becoming the student body president, something you’ve always known you were capable of but never had the social capital to do in high school.
Or is it something deeper, less artificial? Less superficial. Something more personal.
Is it in your mind or is it in your heart? How do you feel it and know that it is true?
Mariama, you promised yourself that you would be successful. But at what cost? At the cost of selling out and living a double life?
Yama, fear cannot run your life. It is the one and only roadblock with the power to keep you from your wildest dreams. I recognize you've lived with the steps laid out for you the entirety of your life. Are you ready for something new?
Just on the other side of your fear is a place called audacity. It is where the anticipation of fear and the boldness that comes from self-determination and faith live powerfully, harmoniously.
So I'll ask you again: Are you ready for something new? Are you ready to be different? Are you ready to be a trailblazer? If not, I need you to get ready because the things that make you feel the most alive are not the things the world qualifies as successful.
And you know what, Yama? That's okay.
Stand tall, plant your feet, and water your own seeds within your soul. You don't need permission. You don't need a manual. You don't need approval.
Ask yourself, “What helps you grow? What feeds your soul? What is the sun that you keep stretching towards?”
Once you’ve answered those questions, recognize the answers as the beating of your heart, the breath within your lungs, the blood in your veins. Recognize the answers as pure joy. As your calling. As everything you are supposed to do. And be.
Take pride. And then pray.
Pray for clarity. For direction. For timing. For community.
True success is not defined by the world, but rather by the peace and joy within your soul that surpasses your own understanding.
It is measured by your pursuit of purpose, of love, of God.
It will not come from accolades, or awards, or even from letters at the end of your name. In fact, there’s a world in which those material gains will only make you feel more restless, more discontent, and more unworthy.
There is a grounding, a steadfastness, a higher level of understanding that only comes from being grounded in something else besides your own human condition.
Because you are not perfect. And there is an irony that even though no one can reach perfection, that is the world’s definition of ultimate success.
I need you to know there will be people, your own family and friends, who do not understand how you define success. They will throw words at you like “failure” and “useless” and “disappointment.”
But allow the words to go through you, to hit the wall behind you. To shatter into a billion tiny pieces.
Use them later as the foundation to your stained glass mosaic, a masterpiece in reverence of how much you’ve learned to embrace yourself.
The things they’ve always said will bring you happiness, life and success are actually the very things that will drain you of it and make it so difficult to ever see the class half full.
You can choose something different. You can choose to find success within your heart and within your soul.
You can choose life. You can choose purpose. You can choose joy, and peace.
These are the measures of a soul that is healthy. That is success. That is love. That will be you.
Deep inside that is already you.
So so sweetly,
Your twenty-four year old self