As a senior on the track and field and cross country teams, my time at Yale has revolved around seconds, miles and a 15-minute bus schedule. Like all distance runners, each day brings its own demands, including a consistent stream of prescribed miles. Though a mile may seem to be a uniform measure of distance, each one is unique — some are colder than others, some more joyful, some faster, some darker. Regardless of the underlying conditions, however, I have found that early, solitary miles possess the great power of self-reflection.
During my first week at Yale, in the whirlwind that was first-year orientation, I recall sitting in the Timothy Dwight dining hall, wearily listening to the welcoming address of our beloved, and since retired, Head of College Jeffrey Brenzel. With a quiet intensity, he challenged each of us to accept flexibility — to acquire a “revisable definition of success.” Though I did not know it at the time, this single, simple quest to “redefine success” would become one of the greatest challenges of my undergraduate years. In looking back over the thousands of miles I have clocked on the sidewalks of New Haven, I have realized that my understanding of this challenge has transformed with each step, each setback, each loss, each victory. And, regretfully, I am confident I have failed.
Since my first year, every personal endeavor has been qualified by an overwhelming urge to pursue excellence, substantiated only in reportable athletic, social and academic triumphs. In a National Championship bid. In a competitive GPA. In fulfilled religious obligations. In attempted perfection. Now, with noticeably creakier knees and a (slightly) better understanding of Constitutional Law, I cannot honestly say that much has changed. I continue to find myself painfully ambitious and overly self-critical, and I remain wholeheartedly invested in the numbers that lie behind grades and race results. Given the conversations I have had with friends and teammates through the years, it seems many Yalies have experienced something similar.
Still, while maybe just a sore attempt to rationalize my failure to redefine success, I do not believe it is our definition of success that actually requires redefining. So much of Yale’s beauty is found in the individuals and communities that formulate, believe in and dare to pursue lofty goals and aspirations — neglecting such a fact would severely discount the true purpose and immense power of this place. Instead of revising our definitions of success, I believe it is rather the way in which we go about pursuing success that demands our reconsideration.
Like running miles, the majority of our lives consist not of monumental achievements, but of seemingly mundane, tedious and altogether unremarkable moments:
In calling grandparents and writing thank-you notes.
In encouraging friends to grow and become.
In the camaraderie of late nights spent on overdue problem sets.
In the nerves of start-line, pre-game huddles.
In making the effort to listen, to unplug.
In failed attempts, sincere apologies and honest words.
In dining hall conversations and awkward, passing smiles.
In silent, shared tears over lives and loves lost.
In honoring commitments, both great and small.
In noticing the daily opportunities to be better, to love better.
Over my time at Yale, I have found that these are the things that are actually worth acknowledging and most worth doing well. If we master the ability to recognize and harness the power of a simple moment — of a single mile — success will follow.
As we go about our daily lives here, and as we prepare to step out into this deep, wanting world, let’s be conscious of the way in which we pursue success. Let’s make a point to remind each other of our magic, to be kind. Let’s fail with grace and succeed with gratitude. Let’s go home and love our families. Let’s write letters, throw birthday parties and make every effort to look outward. Let’s fall in love and stay in love. Let’s seek to actively define and actually live what it is we believe, moment by moment. If we prioritize our moments, noticing and tending to even the smallest of encounters, we can and will leave this place in better condition than we found it. And, after all, is there truly a better definition of success?
Yes, this world needs successful people. But it is in great need of good people. We can be both. May we find the best of ourselves in the moments and miles ahead.
Kelli Reagan is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .