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As I helped my 4 year old son with his homework on a recent evening, I kept on insisting that he “stay within the lines” as he colored in his assignment.  This scene repeated itself for several minutes, as we both grew increasingly frustrated with each other.  My son could not understand why I did not acknowledge how beautiful he thought his coloring was, all I seemed to see were the “mistakes.”  I finally caught myself and realized what I was doing.

Sometimes we do the same thing when we think of our lives.  I’m sure there are moments when “staying within the lines” is important; take for instance respecting the limits that laws place on our behavior or even just staying in our lanes when we drive.  Moving beyond these sometimes literal ways of “staying within the lines,” what happens when we live our entire life that way?  Always focusing on what is wrong?  Or never reaching out for more because we can’t see beyond the limits we place on ourselves?  We miss out on how beautiful life can be when we don’t take chances and when we can’t see a lesson in what may seem like a mistake or failure.  I learned from that short moment with my son that our lives don’t have to be perfect to be good.  What we perceive as an imperfection may be what makes our lives that much more beautiful.

So, this is a reminder to focus on the good, savor your life, and don’t be afraid to try something new.  You’ll hold up your picture one day and be surprised at how beautiful it is.

Stephanie Perez is in her final year at CUNY SPS, majoring in Sociology. When she is not busy joining her four year old son on his daily adventures, she likes to spend her time reading, cooking, and dancing to her favorite music. After graduation she hopes to pursue a career in human rights law and advocacy.

What does it mean to be successful? What does success mean to you? As I prepared over the summer, for what will be my final semester towards my BA, I reflected a lot on what success meant to me. After all the effort it took to get this far, how will I use what I have been given? What is my next step?

Earlier in the summer, as I listened to the radio on my way home from work, I heard a playback of an interview of a well known American jazz musician, Charlie Haden. Haden described in his interview what a remarkable life and career he enjoyed. Although his accomplishments were many, what really stood out to me wasn’t so much what he did, it was why he did what he did, the motives behind his work.

Like any young professional, Haden struggled to make ends meet in the beginning of his career. Feeling guilty because he was not able to provide for his family, he decided to start recording commercial music. Although he was still working at creating music, creating commercial music was not something he believed in. In his own words, he said: “It isn’t what I want to do. I have a very clear picture of what I want to do and what I feel is important as far as my contribution or my appreciation and respect for this life that we’re living, and to try and make it better. I can’t feel that I’m making it better playing commercial music, and I never could and never will.” Listen to the full interview here.

What does this comment have to do with success? Well, Haden focused on producing work that he believed in and could feel proud of. It had real substance.  The feeling behind his work was what really resounded with me. It made me ask, why do I do what I do? What is really important to me? As I begin to take my first steps in my chosen career, how will I use my gifts and abilities? What will my contribution to society be? How will I be remembered one day?

Ultimately, I think I will have achieved success if I am able to produce work that I can stand behind of proudly. My journey up until this point has been a long and winding road. I feel like I scaled a huge mountain and am now at the top, gazing at the horizon. Looking ahead, beyond graduation, I want to strive to work hard at things that I believe in. I’m not sure where this journey will end, but I can’t wait to get started!

Stephanie Perez is in her final year at CUNY SPS, majoring in Sociology. When she is not busy joining her four year old son on his daily adventures, she likes to spend her time reading, cooking, and dancing to her favorite music. After graduation she hopes to pursue a career in human rights law and advocacy.