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Joy TheifAs 2013 comes to a close, our social media feeds are chock full of “best of”‘s and “years in review”. Twitter has a highlight reel, Instagram has a top 5 photo montage, and Facebook has its own retrospective. After viewing a few of the Facebook montages of some friends, I ventured into my profile to create my own. As I ran through my draft, I thought “this is it” and I felt a sense of disappointment. I then looked through my feed from the past year to see what I might have missed and how I might add some milestones and achievements. I finally stopped and thought about how downright silly I was being. Yet it was a familiar trap I had found myself caught in far too often – judging the merits of my own achievements against the successes of others (something my friend, Lisa Endersby, covered eloquently in her own post, “Behind the Scenes”, a while back)

While I have found so many positives to having grown my personal learning networking through social media over the years, there has been one danger (for me) in bearing witness to all of the wonderful news and accomplishments that flow through my feeds on a daily basis. There’s a temptation in scrolling down and thinking “they’re better than me” or “they’ve done so much more than I have”. It’s easy to forget that our social media feeds are, in fact, often highlight reels. And there’s nothing disingenuine or inauthentic about that. The good news, the awards, the milestones – they deserve to be shared, to be shouted, to be lauded! What I need to remind myself for the future is to focus on celebrating with the individual rather than as a cause for comparison.

I’m now in the midst of year 8 of what was a “5-year-plan”. My first 5 year plan pretty much went exactly the way I had imagined it, ironic given the fact that I’m anything but rigid when it comes to planning pretty much anything in life. But during the course of the last 8 years, I moved to a new state, got married, had a child, bought a house, seen quite a bit of positional transition around me at work, and, in just about a month, will see my life blessed with a second child. Each one of these instances has brought about the uncertain, the unplanned, the challenges and unexpected joys. In some ways, it would be too easy to hold up what I had hoped to have accomplished personally and professionally against the achievements and others and think that I had missed the mark. But that would dishonor all of the fabulous and wonderful occurrences I have had in my life in that same time frame.

Working at a community college actually provides a useful framework for thinking about the idea of success. We’re constantly pushing against the use of graduation rates as the measure of success – as we work with many students for whom graduation, at least from here, may not be the goal. For some the goal is getting back into an academic mindset after years of being away. For others the goal might be to save money for a year before continuing on at a four-year institution while for others it might be gathering up prerequisites close to home. We see quite a few successes here that don’t fit into the external measures – that doesn’t make these successes any less meaningful or important.

We define what success means to us. And, the beauty of that fact means it doesn’t need to be written in stone. Like the stairways in Hogwarts, what success means to us can change depending on where we’re stepping or what door we’ve just exited. Failure of achieving a goal can actually be a success if it resulted in learning more about who we are or about what our priorities may be. So I’m going to scroll through the highlight reels and appreciate them for what they are – not examples of what I should or should not be doing, but simply for what the people I care about are choosing to celebrate. Instead of allowing my joy to be stolen – because the only one stealing it really is me – I’m going to ENjoy the happiness around me, while I also take the time to celebrate the joy and success in my own life.

Here’s to a successful 2014.