Illustration by Rose Collins

In a stressful and demanding university environment, it’s every student’s goal to tap into success as quickly as possible. But it’s important for young adults to reflect on whether their proposed paths in life actually align with their passions and  interests.

It has become all too common for university students to choose a major based on how lucrative they think it will be, rather than dedicating their time to studying a subject they’re passionate about. Stigma toward humanities and social sciences only adds to many students’ ill-conceived aspirations to choose their major based on arbitrary definitions of  success.

Recently, bestselling author and Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard visited UC Santa Cruz to discuss the importance of valuing late bloomers, his term for the resilient people who attain success later in life.

“We all have our own areas, we all have our own native gifts, and we all have our own internal motivations,” Karlgaard said to an audience of students and parents. “The bad aspect about school and popular culture today is that [they say] ‘it is okay if you are excellent, but here is how we measure excellence,’ whereas the spectrum of all humanity is infinitely wide, they only care along this narrow  statistic.”

Students don’t need to find success the day they graduate, and they must take the time to determine what being successful means to them. 

Some students do land their ideal job and “succeed” right after college, but more often than not, students take time finding a suitable job, which is sometimes in a field unrelated to their college major. Early post-university success can guarantee wealth and security, but the challenge of finding success later in life can develop people’s tenacity, resilience and growth  mindset. 

As society changed throughout history, so have perceptions of success. The percentage of UC undergraduates majoring in STEM increased from 42 to 49 between 2008 and 2018, and graduate enrollment in STEM programs rose from 51 to 58 percent over the same period. Silicon Valley’s influence in California leads many students to view success within the narrow realm of tech  companies. 

Our culture teaches students that professions like teaching pale in comparison to lucrative careers in tech. Non-STEM professions are not only undervalued by students and society at large, but students who do embark on careers in these so-called important fields receive backlash from their peers, friends and  parents.

According to a 2017 report by the American Psychological Association, 61 percent of university students in the U.S. reported to their student health centers they suffer from anxiety. The report also states that 49 percent of university students suffer from depression and 45 percent experience stress.

For all that college is chalked up to be — a gateway to the future and a space for young adults to explore their passions — it’s a bitter irony that just the opposite is true for many university students.

In order for university students to feel less daily pressure to live a successful life, people must change their mentality of what success really means and how it can be measured.

Instead of success being defined as instant affluence, it’s important to consider the difficulties and complexities of a university graduate discovering a career path that works for them. It’s time to destigmatize and encourage following passions rather than chasing dollars.