“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it,” said Dr Maya Angelou, an American poet and civil rights activist.
But if we put it into the context of Singapore’s society, would her words of wisdom seem too ‘soft’ to push young people toward ambitions?
If I can speak for most millennials, we grew up with parents and educators spurring us on towards life’s most crucial goals of good studies, a firm career, and earning a comfortable income (at least).
Faced with a standard set of boxes to tick off, ‘liking’ what you do doesn’t seem enough to fit the bill.
However, while we’re thankful for their guidance and acknowledge their goals have helped us in huge ways, our generation has grown to expand our idea of what it means to succeed.
We spoke to three millennials who shared what are some areas of success they hold to higher importance.
To Keep Learning And Growing
Traditionally, climbing the corporate ladder and earning lots of money are two things that have been treated as the be-all and end-all of a successful life.
Instead of that, some of us now look at career accomplishments in a different way.
In fact, Singaporean millennials responding to a National Youth Survey in 2016 placed personal development above career success.
They aim to learn new things and acquire new skills that improve themselves, whether it’s in their job or beyond it.
For Anjay, who works in a tech firm, he shares that “it’s more important not to remain stagnant” in these times to stay adaptable to changing trends.
“Compared to growing upwards in a linear path, I find it more meaningful to look back and see that I have expanded my skills and knowledge into areas that were once unfamiliar territory,” he adds.
A thirst to keep learning also drives young Singaporeans to grow with a tribe mentality, as youths show that they value helping the less fortunate and contributing to society.
“I think that when we do well in life, being able to put something back out there for others is a mark that we are going the right way,” says Shimin, a creative in the arts industry.
Emotional Health Is A New Form Of Wealth
It’s rarely dedicated any attention in the classic tale of success, but emotional well-being seems to be a priority that millennials want to see themselves doing well in.
It emerged as one of the top few personal priorities among young Singaporeans who took part in the National Youth Council’s Youth Conversations last year, where they were asked to share how they view success in comparison with how they think society views it.
“I want to get to a point where I’m responsible and confident enough to practice self-care when it’s needed. People are realising that ‘mental health days’ are important, but we’re so used to brushing it off when we’re too busy chasing jobs and milestones like buying a house,” says Shimin.
Going through complex hurdles and large amounts of stress to achieve our goals, emotional health becomes necessary.
More than that, millennials know we must succeed in this to go far.
“Keeping my state of mind and emotions in check makes things easier when I have to take on one challenge after another,” says Anjay.
Besides, I think there’s no point in achieving everything, hitting targets and so on, if it takes away your joy—then I wouldn’t say I succeeded.
Staying Grounded To Loved Ones, And Their Practical Needs
Some definitions of success remain the same through time.
Just like the generation before us, we value having strong family relationships.
However, this may not always translate to a desire to check off the box of getting married and starting our own families.
Either way, whether it’s their parents, spouses, or children, young Singaporeans value having loved ones close by and want to support them as well.
“Without family or loved ones, succeeding in the rest of the areas is a lot less enjoyable, which is why this is the highest priority to me,” says Jeremy, who works in the media industry.
He adds that there’s also a need to be pragmatic, and ensure that finances are sorted out so he can give his family a comfortable life and enjoy happier moments.
“Money is not the most important, but it still comes second. If I have my finances in place, then I’m assured that I can take care of the people that are really number one,” he adds.
Being Seen As More Than Our Credentials
While our new definitions of success have branched out from what was once a more structured and straightforward concept, it’s not all in the clouds.
Some employers we spoke to also echoed the sentiments of Singapore’s youth, and in turn look out for these factors in people they hire.
Kenneth, an employer in the finance industry, considers it important that young people are hungry to learn.
“These days, almost everyone had the chance to study and has a degree. It’s no longer what qualifies you,” he says.
But if a job applicant shows they have room for personal development and is willing to grow in different ways, they can evolve with their companies.
Like him, Madelene, who runs a business in services, looks out for young people who see themselves as part of a bigger picture.
“Everyone is trying to conquer their own goals for sure. But with their fresh ideas, it’s valuable that young people can also do things that affect their communities,” she shares.
Of course, trying to reach success in more unconventional ways doesn’t make it any easier than before.
It’s often tempting, or perhaps second nature, to let our ‘millennials goals’ get overshadowed by more apparent pursuits.
“A lot happens in a process we are all too familiar with—adulting. At first we are saving up from our first jobs, then we need to get married, buy a house, and maybe we’ll have kids. At the same time, our parents are growing old too,” says Jeremy.
Many of us are guilty of letting our ideas of success take a backseat, even though we know they’re important.
A piece of advice Kenneth offers is to “know what you personally want to achieve”, and not to feel pressured to chase the type of success that others are chasing.
He adds that millennials should also be open to sharing about skills they wish to acquire with employers, as these could also help add value to their workplace.
In Madelene’s opinion, it also helps to take small, practical steps that will support your bigger dreams in the long run.
These steps can be as simple as starting to save more than you spend, or keeping a record of what you plan to learn next.
“I may be on the older end of the millennial group, but I found that being diligent in tracking my financial and professional progress proved to be handy as I had more on my plate!”
At the end of the day, success for young Singaporeans has morphed from a once ideal set of accomplishments agreed on by society, to become a benchmark that we can be more driven to reach as we choose how we define it ourselves.
So let’s go out and make meaning in our own success.
Find out how other young Singaporeans are defining their own versions of success here.
This article was written in collaboration with the National Youth Council.
Featured Image Credit: Freepik