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What’s “Success” Anyways?

Our second full day in Thailand was a packed one, with a visit to the inspiring Birdsnest restaurant and a unique conversation at Chiang Mai University. Both discussions focused on issues of food and agriculture, and how the two could be used to generate beneficial change for food workers and food consumers alike. One point that particularly struck me, however, was the idea of success and happiness; particularly, what does it mean to be successful in life? While at Birdsnest, owner and chef Yao mentioned the fantastic things she and people involved in changing food culture are doing; creating healthier options for consumers, helping farmers be more sustainable, and paying her restaurant employees a significantly above average salary. Soon after, however, she quietly said the operation of the restaurant was not extremely profitable, and wasn’t very successful yet. She said she was living in the same building as Birdsnest, and didn’t live a very opulent life.

I noticed, however, the passion in her eyes as she continued talking with us about the work she does, and all the good that comes out of it. She was excited to talk about the great changes that were occurring in her city, and how much joy this project had brought her. This really made me stop and think. How could anyone possible say she hasn’t been a success? She owns her own business, works with great people doing something she loves, and is at the forefront of an extremely exciting movement.
Oftentimes, it seems like we define success as accumulating as much wealth as possible while we can, so that we can spend it wastefully when we get old. Is that really success though? Is that really what makes us happy?

Coming into this experience, I had no real knowledge of the ways other cultures consider a person a “success.” After two short days, however, I’m beginning to see that being happy, doing what you love, and creating a positive impact on others are three things that would make my life as great as it could be.