What is my success?
For my first a cappella audition, I walked confidently into Biddle on East Campus. I entered the room, introduced myself, and took a deep, calming breath. I knew that this was one of those special moments of senior year—my last chance to try a new experience and cross it off my bucket list, so that I may leave Duke with no regrets. Before me sat the beautiful, fiercely talented ladies of Out of the Blue, Duke’s all female a cappella group. I began singing the timeless feminist anthem of “Cheetah Sisters,” from the seminal Disney Channel Original Movie, “The Cheetah Girls.”
Suffice it to say, I was unstoppable.
Early on in my Duke career, I knew I wanted to audition for an a cappella group before I graduated. I knew I wanted to do a lot of things. I wanted to get a late night Cookout shake. I wanted to perform a Me Too Monologue. Since freshman year, I knew I wanted to run a parody campaign for DSG President. Without realizing it, I set a fairly clear barometer for myself to gauge how successfully I used my time here. I would always, or at least more often than not, embrace my recklessly creative ideas for new experiences with a fearlessly bright attitude.
As Duke students, we are the doers. We complete major course loads and accomplish our philanthropic goals. We acquire those big internships in DC and New York and we apply for even bigger jobs. We do not stop because enough is, usually, never enough. But what does “enough” even mean? I ask this, because, most often we do not clearly define what success means in our lives. What does success in university mean for me? Is it getting into my dream grad school, or is it finding just one, brilliantly honest connection to a life-long friend? What constitutes success in my pursuit of art? Do I need to make a million dollars? A billion dollars? Or must I simply just touch the heart of one person and enrich her life?
Duke students are natural doers, but we are not natural reflectors and meditators. We often do not take the time to reflect on our experiences, accomplishments, and even our failures to fully understand and appreciate their impact on our lives. In the same way, we do not define our personal standards of success independent of those around us. Truthfully, I find that most students, at any school, really, live in this ambiguous, competitive space where success is simply trying to do better than those around them at the things that those around them are doing. We have not been taught to perform in any other way.
Generally, I do not ask classmates what they got on the last test. It does not change my score and it does not have any significant bearing on the success of my life path.
Competitiveness is gorgeously productive, but only in the context that I have defined my own, personal standard of success that is as independent as humanly possible from those around me. I focus on my creative energy source, honor those ideas and goals, and let those determine my success and satisfaction. I think of a unique experience like a parody campaign or a whacky audition, and I just jump into the free fall. Doing so puts the power of determining my self-worth and happiness back into my hands.
So, I did not get the callback for Out of the Blue. I would like to think this is because my vocals were too “off the chain.” At any rate, I’m happy. I seek out these new, zany experiences to honor my creativity when I have it, regardless of the outcome or what others think of me. I will never be part of a college a cappella group, but I will also live happily and successfully.
I still feel pretty Cheetahlicious.
Rence Nemeh is a Trinity junior. His column runs every other Friday.