Pursue experiences that fulfill you, not experiences that fulfill some checklist

by Canton Winer

I don’t believe in destiny. I don’t believe in fate. I don’t believe in meant-to-be.

When I was a senior in high school, I applied to 16 colleges. Fordham was essentially a random application. I’m not Catholic, I had never been to New York, and I applied essentially because the application was free.

Canton Winer, FCRH '15, will be graduating from Fordham on May 16.

Canton Winer, FCRH '15, will be graduating from Fordham on May 16.

After months of agonizing, I decided to attend Fordham. And, in all honesty, there’s never been a moment that I’ve regretted that decision.

I’ve loved my experience at Fordham. I feel deeply changed by the education I have received here through my classes, my internships, and my relationships.

On paper, I meet most of the arbitrary check boxes for Things That Will Make Your Parents Proud.

I’ve had incredible internships, ranging from USA TODAY and Human Rights Watch to a Congressional campaign, and my resume looks pretty strong. I’ve held leadership positions in several clubs, including The Ram, the Undergraduate Research Journal, and RHA. I’ve been admitted to an Ivy League graduate program. In less than a month, I’ll be graduating Summa Cum Laude. I have a strong group of friends that I absolutely love and adore.

All in all, my “accomplishments” earn me at least a gold sticker.

Still, I didn’t enter college with any of these expectations in mind. It’s not that I’m not goal-oriented; it’s that I see the goal as being fulfilled, not as fulfilling some prefabricated image of success.

I had no intention, for example, of engaging in journalism while in college. Little did I know that I’d go on to be Managing Editor of The Ram, a Collegiate Correspondent for USA Today, or a paid freelancer for several online blogs.

I also had no intention of declaring a major in American Studies or in Sociology. Nowhere in my plans was a semester abroad in South Africa scheduled in. I certainly had no intention of going off to live in China after graduation.

Yet, all of these things happened—or will soon happen—and I’m incredibly happy that they did.

I think I’ve “done well” in college because I’ve pursued opportunities that I thought would make me happy, not things that I thought would make me successful. It’s easy to excel when you enjoy what you’re doing.

I don’t do well in class because I’m pursuing an A. In fact, I often don’t feel that I’m really trying very hard in class. This is because I’ve sought out classes I knew I would find fulfilling, not classes that would boost my GPA.

I made it to leadership positions in clubs because I cared deeply about what I was doing. Importantly, the skills and experience that landed me these positions were not acquired with the future attainment of these positions in mind.

At the risk of sounding pompous, I’ll admit that I tend to get offered the positions for which I’ve interviewed. I’d like to think this isn’t because I’m just so amazing (despite my grandparents’ assurances that I am), but because I didn’t have to feign enthusiasm during the interview. I got the positions I wanted because, well, I actually wanted them.

When I was asked to write this post giving advice to younger Rams, I was unsure what to say. And, frankly, I still am. But I will say this: Pursue experiences that fulfill you, not experiences that fulfill some checklist.

Success is not quantifiable. It can’t be reduced to a formula. It doesn’t come in a package.

My advice on how to be “successful” is to find out what fulfills you and pursue it tirelessly. In trying to find those things, you will undoubtedly find some things you thought you’d love aren’t fulfilling, and that’s part of the process. The amazing thing is, if you’re pursuing something truly fulfilling, even tireless pursuit shouldn’t leave you exhausted. I never burned myself out, because even though I was working hard, I didn’t feel like I was. I felt fulfilled by what I was doing.

Most of us are in the privileged position of being able to chart our own paths. Destiny doesn’t exist anywhere but in our minds. We’re free to construct our own fates, so why not construct one that matters?

Canton Winer is the Program Assistant to Fordham University's Creative Writing Program.