If you were given the opportunity to go back in time and help yourself find success, what would you say? To me, success is such a complex topic because its definition is individual to every single person. To find out what it means to you, you have to consider asking yourself things like, how do you want to make a difference in this world? What, if any, do you want your legacy to be? Or simply, who do you want to be?

This month, I was presented with an incredible opportunity to reflect on this topic, from the College Woman’s Club in my town, which is an organization that helps young women like me higher their education. They held a writing contest for sophomore girls, in which you were asked to reflect upon your successes and failures, and tell yourself the most important things to note about success. I am both humbled and honored to have been announced as the winner of this contest, and I want to give a thousand thank yous to the Woman’s Club for this opportunity and recognition.

When I think about what I can tell my younger self, thousands of words come to mind, but I have put all those that are most important in the 500-word essay below. Without further ado, here is my letter to younger Liv! 

Dear Younger Liv,

You don’t know it right now, but the tragedies you will soon face are what will shape you into who you are. You will scream and cry and wish your life could be normal, but the truth is, without those hardships you would not be who you are today. From those hardships will come your greatest successes in life. Success is a strange concept. Its definition is individual to each person. So, what is success and how does one get it? 

First, you should know that your greatest success will come from tragedy. Soon, you will lose the person closest to you and feel lost and afraid. For years after, you will grow tired of hearing strangers and family alike say, “you are so strong”. But one day, you will realize the truth to those four words. You are so strong because you will continue to find the good in life, even after tragedy. Keeping this positive outlook is what I would consider my greatest success today, and it’s all because of facing hardship.

Success is also selfless. It is not about goals you’ve completed, but about people you’ve helped. Another one of your greatest accomplishments will come from helping a friend realize her worth. One day you will find out that a friend no longer wants to be in this world. You will be scared and unsure of what to do. Ultimately, you’ll get her help and save her life. Today I consider this one of my greatest successes, not because I did something amazing, but because I could help someone in need.

Success is also found by turning heartache into action. When you lose someone to cancer, it will be hard to stop feeling like the world is unfair. But then you will realize that so many others are going through these feelings, and a cure does not seem likely anytime soon. Instead of having pity on yourself, you will realize that you can help others, and donate what you can to those in the same situation, in hopes of making the world just a bit fairer. The success of turning hardships into opportunities is extraordinary.

If you choose to live selflessly, failure will be hard to come by. As I’m sure you’ve picked up on, I’ve chosen to measure my success through living lovingly, not by completing tasks. Deeming success a lifestyle rather than goals, does not allow for failure, as long as you always try to keep a selfless heart.

Finally, success is not easy. All the things I’ve talked about takes strength and perseverance. There will be times when you want to give up on finding the good in the world, helping someone, or just continuing to go through life. But I promise that the end result will be incredible. You will come out stronger on the other side of hardship, and be a more loving person. Which to me, is a more successful person.              

Love, Older Liv

Liv Mazzola is a smiley 16-year-old with many stories to tell, and the desire to share her unique perspective with the world. She enjoys both performing and watching theater, reading and writing, and above all else, making memories with friends and family. Liv cannot wait to share her stories and philosophies and hopes to help others with her writing.

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