Cover: CHS students define success in forms other than income



Ask three people to define success, and they’ll say several different things. Ask more, and some will start to repeat some of these things: money, careers, relationships, and luxury, all of which characterize a vision of happiness many people chase throughout their lives—the American Dream.

But Luisa Perez, Private and senior, isn’t aiming for those same parameters of success. A day for her yields many fruits of hard labor. Instead of long car drives, she spends hours crawling or marching through mud and mire. Instead of moneyed leisure, she practices land navigation and drill and ceremony. Instead of a white picket-fenced house, Perez aims for a rugged army door.

GIVE ME 50: Luisa Perez, Private and senior, does push-ups along with other soldiers of the National Guard.
GIVE ME 50: Luisa Perez, Private and senior, does push-ups along with other soldiers of the National Guard.

Her military training workouts are grueling. And she does it all for a vision of the future very unlike that of most seniors. It was by no means an easy road to take, but Perez said her decision to walk this path “wasn’t tough at all.”

“That’s all I’ve been wanting to do for a few years,” Perez said. “I decided join to the Army because I wanted to give back to this country that has given me so much. I’ve always wanted to fight for a cause, and I feel like that’s how I found what to fight for. I want to fight for freedom that we are given every day and make sure that we keep it.”

She said it would help her achieve her goals towards what she wanted to do in her life.

“I am in the National Guard right now, (which is) part of the Army, and what I do is that after I graduate high school, I’m going to go to basic training and job training, and then I’m going to start college (in the) fall of 2016; then I’m going to go four years, get my degree in social work and do ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps), which is a reserve officer’s training cadet to become an officer, and by the time I’m out of college, I’ll be an officer in the army, and then I’ll try to do medical officer,” Perez said. “I’m working very hard to achieve everything that I want to achieve. I work every day—after school I work out so I make sure that I pass my physical exams, and I’m always keeping in touch with my recruiter, and I’m getting good grades. I already got accepted into IU, so I know that I do have a plan of what college to go to, and the National Guard is paying for my college.”

When making her decision, Perez did not consider income as a parameter for her choice.

“I feel like I’m only going to be successful if I keep on going through what I’m doing right now,” she said. “I think someone can be successful and be completely poor because I feel like success doesn’t have anything to do with materialistic things (or) materialistic achievements.”

While Perez doesn’t worry about making a lot of money, a 2014 Pew Research study showed that 65 percent of people in countries with more advanced economies believe their children of this generation will be “worse off financially than their parents.” According to social studies teacher Dan Bates, Americans tend to consider money as a major factor of success, and their excess consumption has contributed to this attitude.

Reasons for perspective

“We’re a society that’s still, as distorted as it is as far as where people should be, still into conspicuous consumption,” Bates said. “We still live in a community where we’re surrounded by it in all sorts of ways. People are waking up a little bit to it, but it’s still there.”

According to Bates, in recent decades, older generations of Americans—such as the baby boomers—have realized they have consumed more than they could, contributing to consequences of the resulting current debt for immediate and future generations.

ATTEN-TION: Perez leads soldiers of the National Guard in a salute.
ATTEN-TION: Perez leads soldiers of the National Guard in a salute.

“It’s as if those in that generation are saying, ‘OK, look, we’re about to die, and we’re going to give you the bills for all that we did.’ And so as a country, we’ve lived beyond our means. As households, we live beyond our means, and that has to stop at some point,” Bates said. “So the perception that people have, as far as what’s going to happen with today’s children or with today’s generation, (is that) they have a much better sense that it can’t be maintained.”

Social studies teacher Michelle Foutz said she agreed and also said the current financial condition with the massive debt would affect how future generations fare in life.

“I think that people (in America) focus more on income levels as a measure of success than you might see in other countries, and I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but I think we focus on that,” Foutz said. “The more debt that we have, the greater debt that we are putting on future generations. So in the future, how are they going to deal with that? They could have higher taxes, which means they’re going to have less disposable income; they’re going to have (fewer) government programs, and all of those things will affect the standard of living.”

Bates and Foutz also said a factor accounting for the outlook of economically advanced countries compared to that of countries less economically advanced is the difference in growth rates.

“In these emerging economies, everything is upward and ever upward, and so there’s that feeling of, ‘Well look at how things are here now compared to how they were 50 years ago.’ Well, they’re substantially better in those countries, and so then that is imparted on their beliefs or their ideas about what’s going to happen with their children,” Bates said. “(For developed countries), their growth rates haven’t plateaued, I mean they’re still in the 2 percent range of growth, but you have some of these emerging economies that are like 4 percent. If you’re talking in billions, that’s huge.”

Foutz said she agreed and also said the economic growth rate has especially slowed down in the United States, also affecting outlook.

“We’ve been experiencing a sluggish economy, unemployment is higher than we want it to be, GDP has been slow, we’ve seen slower growth of our GDP, the stock market hasn’t been performing that well—we’ve had a financial crisis in 2008, and so I feel that incomes generally are not rising like they used to, and I think that’s a contributing factor,” Foutz said. “Because of the growth in those nations and the increased numbers of jobs and the incomes rising in those countries, they’re much more optimistic about the future economy than we are, and they’re also transitioning to a more market-based economy, which is contributing to the increased numbers of jobs and opportunities in those nations.”

Perez said she agreed with Foutz that growth creates optimism.

“I feel like when a nation is so rich and maybe the parents are already rich and everything, they probably aren’t as optimistic for their kids to be the same because they already expect it for them, but for poor nations, I feel like all they hope is that their kids will have a better future, that’s like all they’re thinking about (and) all they’re being optimistic about,” Perez said.

According to Bates, another factor that could have contributed to people’s attitudes toward the future of immediate generations was the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Additionally, he said the largest income growth occurred among those with the highest incomes of the society.

“You could have the C.E.O. of General Motors in the 1970s making around $600,000, and the average line worker in the General Motors plant was making $20 an hour. And 20 years later, they might be making $40 an hour, which is a 100 percent pay increase, which seems like a big deal, but the C.E.O. went from $600,000 to $9 million. And now it’s even far beyond that,” Bates said.

Other ways

Bates described his opinion for how people could think about what it means to be successful in the future.

“I would tell them to look and try to imagine being 70 years old, and looking back on what they’ve done, and will they have a sense of integrity that allows them to say, ‘I feel really good about what I did’ or ‘When I’m 70, will I just look back and think, “I made a lot of money”?’ If that’s what you want to look back on when you’re 70, then go for it. But I’m not sure that’s the best idea,” he said.

Meanwhile, Foutz said the corporate-dominant nature of America seems to set income as a direct measure of success, but that people of different careers define success in different ways.

“If you look aside that in other sectors, I think you’ll see less of that, especially in government jobs where your income potential is much more limited. But you are in those positions for largely non-monetary reasons, and your measure of success is based on how many people you help or what you’re able to achieve in that position,” she said. “That has nothing to do with money.”

Foutz also said some of her own goals as a teacher had nothing to do with money, and others can think in the same manner regardless of what career they pursue.

“I would say that early on in my career when I started teaching, I wanted to earn my master’s degree; I wanted to earn my National Board certification, so I had different goals in terms of my level of education, and I achieved those. So that would have been one area, and then (there’s) also just what you’re able to do within your own classroom. You have your own personal goals and measures of success. (For example,) if you’re a math teacher, and your goal is for 80 percent of your students to achieve this score on this standardized test, I would say that teachers all have their own individual achievement goals. I think that it’s different for every teacher, (and) I think it’s different for every profession, but I definitely think that there are measures of success outside of income,” she said.

Bates said he agreed: Although money is considered a major factor of success in America, it shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

“In America, it’s a game. It’s the game of trying to acquire the most stuff,” he said. “Just don’t get caught up in the game. Just do those things about which you feel good.”

RESPECT: Luisa Perez, Private and senior, calls fellow soldiers of the Indiana National Guard to attention.
RESPECT: Luisa Perez, Private and senior, calls fellow soldiers of the Indiana National Guard to attention.

Perez said she also agreed, saying for her, joining the Army would help her find success by helping her achieve her goals to serve a good cause, and income wouldn’t matter in the end.

“I think I measure success by the achievements that I have made in my life. I measure how successful I am by the amount of good things I have done, and I feel like how I treat other people (also matters). I feel like someone is not successful if they’re mean, even if they have achieved a lot of things, but I feel like someone is successful when they actually care about others and know to work towards the good of work,” Perez said. “I feel like everybody’s successful if they always give a person a positive view on life, so I feel like just their views, their characteristics and their attitude can measure success.”