1 Chapter 1: Defining Success

Photo Credit: www.uvi.edu

Welcome to the University of the Virgin Islands!

Whether this is your first time in college, or whether you are returning to studies, you are about to embark on a new journey toward success. This course is intended to increase the likelihood that you will achieve academic and personal success and complete your degree programs. Here you will:

  • Develop greater self-awareness
  • Become acclimated to University life
  • Achieve a connection to and involvement with the University community
  • Gain an understanding of how to effectively manage your academic experience
  • Become familiar with approaches to completing assignments and research that reflect college-level readiness
  • Identify and utilize UVI academic and student support resources

Perhaps you are taking a focused program to lead you into your desired career.  Perhaps you are exploring courses in different areas, providing a foundation for future specialization.  Wherever you are in your journey, you find yourself in a learning environment that is different from one you have experienced before.

Photo Credit: www.uvi.edu

What Does Success in College Mean To You?

This book focuses on the behaviors that garner success. Perhaps a good place to begin is in understanding what is meant by success. When asked the above question, typical responses from students currently enrolled in college are:

  • Getting all A’s and B’s in my classes
  • Scoring the game winning point at the final seconds
  • Having an incredible social life
  • Being the first person in my family to graduate college
  • Making the Dean’s list every semester and graduating with honors.

Notice that these responses tend to focus on outer signs of success, high grades and popularity. They are public, visible achievements that allow us to demonstrate our worthiness.

When the same question is asked of people 10 years after they leave college, the typical responses are:

  • Focus on learning instead of just getting good grades
  • Major in a field that really excited me
  • Constantly ask myself how what I was learning could be used to make a difference in the world
  • Discover my personal values and find ways to get personal satisfaction from my work
  • Learn more about the rest of the world and learn a lot more about who I really am as a person.

These responses tend to focus more on inner success, enjoying learning and personal fulfillment. These successes are private, invisible victories that can offer a profound sense of inner happiness.

Both outer and inner success are important for us to strive to achieve. Therefore a good definition of success for us to consider is: Success is staying on course to your desired outcomes and experiences. In other words, you experience success whenever you make progress toward getting the things you want for yourself. [1]

There are different ways to understand how success can be achieved. It is probably most helpful to visualize success from a personal perspective to make it more meaningful to you. Such a viewpoint invites us to remove any competitive nature from our definition of success. After winning the gold medal in the Summer Olympics, gymnast Simone Biles was quoted as saying, “Success for me is always going out there and putting 100 percent into whatever I’m doing.”  Her words suggest that recognizing success is all about giving our best efforts in everything we do.

Photo credit: www.glamour.com

Read the excerpt below and try to reflect on how being successful and Simone Biles’ focus on doing your best are tied together.

“I may find it difficult to achieve success in life unless I have a clear understanding of what it really means to be successful. I am always successful whenever I triumph over negative thoughts, habits and behaviors. The role model of a successful person is not someone who is in competition with other people, always trying to prove that they are smarter or better than anyone else. I may not achieve the highest grade on a test, but I am a success when I don’t allow doubts about my ability get in the way of preparing for and taking the test. I am successful whenever I do my best!”  [2]

Behavior Patterns of Success

It is certainly true that our outcomes and experiences are the end results of our behavior patterns, the choices about how we live our day to day life. Experience will show us that certain behavior patterns will lead us to more successful outcomes than others. For example, a behavior pattern of good dental hygiene (daily brushing, flossing, and regular dental visits) will lead us to healthy teeth and gums. Neglect of those habits will lead us to unhealthy teeth and gums. As with other areas of life, college success can also be guided by behavior patterns. What are the behavior patterns for college success?

Eight Choices of Successful Students:

  • Successful Students Accept Personal Responsibility, seeing themselves as the primary source of their outcomes and experiences.
  • Successful Students Discover Self-Motivation, finding purpose in their lives by pursuing personally meaningful goals and dreams.
  • Successful Students Master Self-Management, consistently planning and taking purposeful actions in pursuit of their goals and dreams.
  • Successful Students Employ Interdependence, building mutually supportive relationships that help them achieve their goals and dreams while helping others do the same.
  • Successful Students Gain Self-Awareness, consciously employing behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes that keep them on their course.
  • Successful Students Adopt a Perspective of Lifelong Learning, never ceasing to find valuable lessons and wisdom in every experience they have throughout life.
  • Successful Students Develop Emotional Intelligence, effectively managing their feelings and emotions and those of others in support of their goals and dreams.
  • Successful Students Believe in Themselves, continually seeing themselves as capable, lovable, and unconditionally worthy human beings. [3]

Try it!

In Class Discussion: Read the story below about the mayonnaise jar experiment and discuss its meaning in relation to getting the most out of college.

A professor stood before a class and placed a large, empty mayonnaise jar on the desk, the big plastic kind like you would buy at Cost-U-Less. He proceeded to fill the jar with golf balls and then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. Then he took out a bag of small pebbles and poured them into the jar, shaking it slightly so that the pebbles rolled into the open spaces between the golf balls. He again asked the students if the jar was now full to which they said yes. Next the professor took out a bag of sand and poured it into the jar, again shaking it a bit to allow the sand to fill in the smaller spaces and pockets of air left in the jar and, for a third time, asked if the jar was now full. This time, with more certainty than before, the students all agreed that the jar was now finally full. At this point the professor took out two small cups of water which he poured into the jar and were quickly absorbed by the sand.

The professor turned to the students and said, “As you can see, we were able to fit a lot into the jar by using the correct order and by making use of all available space. This jar experiment can sometimes symbolize experiences we have in our own life. First, it talks to us about priorities. Many times we fail to prioritize effectively. In filling the jar we know that if we had changed the order of items placed in the jar, they would not have all fit in. What’s most important should always come first or we may end up without enough time to get it done. Secondly, it talks to us about making the most of our time. We may often feel that we have given an assignment all that it needs, when in fact there may always be room for more to make the task more complete or more reflective of our full potential. We sometimes need to take care not to be content with putting forth only the minimum that is required from us, since as this mayonnaise jar illustrates, what may appear to be complete, may often have many holes that can be further filled to make the most of whatever we are engaged in. When we learn, we should learn to the fullest and strive to get the most out of every activity. We will never get the opportunity to nurture our minds and gain the knowledge of a particular class on a particular day in the same way once it has passed, so it’s important to make every moment count when you are in school. A perspective such as this will help us to avoid leaving college with regrets of not having filled our own “mayonnaise jar” to its fullest capacity. It’s the same with everything in life. Enjoy and appreciate everything you have and everything you do to its fullest, especially in your interactions with others. We never get a second chance at life’s most precious experiences, so make the most of them while they happen.” [4]


  1. Adapted from Downing, Skip, 2011, On Course, Cengage Learning
  2. Adapted from "Daily Word" a Unity Publication (date unknown)
  3. Adapted from Downing, Skip, 2011, On Course, Cengage Learning
  4. Anonymous - Author Unknown - https://www.popsugar.com/smart-living/Mayonnaise-Jar-Two-Cups-Coffee-Story-34745305

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Foundations For Success by David Capriola is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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