A Grit Must-Read: What Does Success Look Like?

Cullen Murray Kemp

… the American dream starts with a highbrow internship that pays $4.35 an hour — then another, and maybe another.”  excerpt from The Week article "America is raising a generation of interns" (March 30, 2013) 


The other evening I picked up an old issue of The Week that was smushed under a couch cushion in my living room. I began flipping through its wrinkled pages—economy this, North Korea that—finally, I landed on an article titled America is raising a generation of interns.”


The article discusses the growing number of college graduates who are struggling to find full-time work in a rotten economy. These days, recent graduates are thrown into a work world of competitive internships for the resume, and food/beverage for the rent.


The long-hour combination of an unpaid internship and a food/beverage job gives me the shivers, and I feel incredibly lucky to have missed their wrath.


It got me thinking about opportunity, then about success, and finally, I landed on happiness…


This post may seem a little ironic or invalid written by someone in his early-/mid-20s and who knows little about “real life” success. Yet success is all I think about. I’m sure I’m not alone in questioning whether or not I’m living up to my potential. Every day I spend hours milling about my own mind in search of the right combination of words that may offer me the break I need to become a successful writer. Other hours I spend on the phone trying to convince my parents that I am not a drunk post-grad who spends his days sleeping and his nights carousing bars with college kids. (Maybe Matt Catastrophe was right to scold my King Street Blog...). Problem is, parents (and most of the professional world for that matter) have a tendency to measure post-grad success in a very formulaic, traditional sense: After college we must either find a 40 to 50-hour-per-week job that incorporates our major, OR we must further our education in graduate school.


I’ve done neither.


It is now almost a year since I crossed that illustrious stage and was handed my diploma by a kind-hearted bald man (McDaniel College president Roger Casey), and I still don’t have a full-time job. In my defense, I was all set up for a high-paying gig at a new media company in DC when the bottom fell out, leaving the company’s bright future murkier than the Ashley River mud flats. With no funding left, the company put my job "on hold.” I didn’t dwell because I knew that other career opportunities loomed. To this day I haven’t heard anything back from them.


Then I found Charleston, South Carolina: the best Plan B of all time. I saw Charleston as a city of fun, wealth, pretty women, beaches, golf courses, basketball, foodies, and most of all, opportunity.


What have I accomplished since moving to downtown Charleston last June?


In order of gloriousness:

1. I was a busboy at Halls Chophouse. Working food and beverage with a degree is demoralizing in some ways, but it’s certainly fast cash. I like to categorize my experience at Halls as a mixture of humility and hilarity. The latter in that it must have been hilarious to watch a 6’6" guy getting scolded by a herd of veteran busboys for a sloppy water pour or table clear.


2. I am a sports clerk/writer at The Post and Courier. The best part about working part time at the P&C is being able to tell people that I’m a sports writer for The Post and Courier (and only having to cringe slightly at the miniscule fib).


3. I landed a spot as a Grit blogger. Read my blogs—they’ll explain.


4. I am a freelance writer! Having no boss, no dress code, no commute to work, and plenty of free time are the perks of my life as a freelance writer. Paying bills by the skin of my teeth is the downside.


Not sure if you are able to detect success so far, but allow me to continue...


Happiness, true happiness (there’s a difference) is something that everyone can detect within themselves. For Harry, the homeless man who sits on my stoop, happiness is a sweating Budweiser followed by a sun-bathed nap in the big purple leather chair on my porch. For my mom, happiness is sorting through plants in her greenhouse, and for my dad, happiness is a well-received lecture or a birdie on hole number 18.


If you can’t find what makes you happy you’re probably looking in the wrong place, because our world is overflowing with pleasures for every unique yearn.


Unfortunately for the sanctity of our happiness, there is this thing called money. Happiness for so many comes in the form of dead presidents, and the old adage money can’t buy you happiness is about as valued as it is true. Regardless of our life situation—whether it’s scrapping to pay rent or buying the year’s third vacation to Barbados—everyone wants/needs money.


I’ve spent long hours trying to unearth something linear about success, opportunity, and happiness. How do they fit together? (They don’t) Is there a formula? (Nope) What part does money play? (A big part, maybe. I think) Is a traditional career necessary to be successful and happy? (Absolutely not. Cheers to my fellow writers!)



That leaves one final question: At 23 years old, is there anything I would rather be doing right now in my life?


My answer: hell no. What’s yours?