“I just wanna be successful”

Nada Ahmed at The Social Innovation Project

In Drake and Trey Songz’s 2009 hit “Successful”, Trey Songz admittedly says “I suppose…I just wanna be successful”. Well, that’s what everyone wants, isn’t it? To be their own success story, to feel accomplished, and to reach a point where their hard work (or not so hard work) got them to where they want to be. But let me stop you there for a second and ask…what does success mean for you? What does it look like? How do you measure it?

As a business student, this is what I’m told a successful future for me looks like:

There seems to be an unavoidable shared belief that the smartest people in business work for the biggest banks, in the biggest companies, and at the top level of the highest skyscrapers. When it comes to creating social change however, there’s a weird stigma and it sounds something like this:

Oh, she works for social justice? She couldn’t have been good at math.

You want to work for a small organization that helps underprivileged youth? You probably weren’t the top of your class.

If you think this is an over exaggeration, don’t lie to yourself. Certain symbols spell out “success” more than others. It’s a simple societal truth, and I see it as a very big problem. Blinded by this vague and objective vision of success, we students are told to study hard, land a job, and get a lot of money – and maybe do something great along the way. Well why don’t we start with doing something great? Why don’t we start with “how can I change the world?”.

We need to redefine how our society defines success.

The reality is that the world of social innovation, social entrepreneurship, and social change need the smartest, most educated people. We need the best problem solvers, innovators, and intellects. But these top players aren’t going to want to devote their time to solving social issues if it doesn’t sound like the most “successful” option. But why is it not? Is it the money? Can’t let go of your materialistic desires? Lucky for you, not all changemakers still live with their parents:

  • Bill Drayton, Founder and CEO of Ashoka. Ashoka is the global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs – individuals with system changing solutions for the world’s most urgent social problems
  • Mark and Mo Constantine, Founders of Lush Cosmetics. Lush cosmetics company leads with environmental awareness and ethical consumerism. Lush products are “naked,” or free of packaging, as they make it their mission to make the world better for “people, animals and the environment.” And they’ve given away almost $6 million to environmental and other worthy causes in the last seven years.
  • Dean KarlanYale economics professor and MIT Poverty Action Lab research fellow.  

These people are changing the world, making it a better place, and more likely than not, are living in what society would call comfortable living standards – surprise! And if we want more people like them, changemaking has to sound more attractive. Everyone should want to become a changemaker. But…how? This is a difficult question to answer. It’s a wicked problem and although I wish I knew the answer, I don’t.

Maybe I can’t convince everyone to be a changemaker or shift society’s definition of success away from what is seen on Suits (at least for now). What I can do, however, is start with Community Connect and hope that it becomes something that gives others a place to start their changemaking journey as well. Community Connect’s model works well because it gives the smartest students an opportunity to see how their knowledge can actually make meaningful impact and make it something to be proud of. Everyone has to start somewhere. Sometimes, all that it takes is that small spark of inspiration that eventually leads to big change, and somewhere you choose to define as success.

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