I recently attended an alumni event for the Milton Hershey School graduating class of 2018. A little background: The Milton Hershey School is a private philanthropic (pre-K through 12) boarding school in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was founded and funded by chocolate industrialist Milton Hershey and his wife. Unlike my own children (just kidding kids) – these teens were eager to hear advice and to hear the (abbreviated) story of my journey after high school. Like them, I attended the Milton Hershey School and benefited greatly from a wonderful education and later financial support for college. My story parallels many of theirs; raised by a single mother who struggled financially but wanted me to have the bright future and opportunity that could be provided by MHS.

My definition of future success as a high school senior was limited by my own life experience. I wanted to graduate college and to find a good job, so I could support my family. I don’t believe I even understood what I could aspire to be. However, what I hope I conveyed to these students and to my own children is to truly connect with what makes you happy. Take note of the tasks that you enjoy doing so much that they don’t feel like work. A career will not be a straight path rather one that will go left, right and often sideways. Align yourself with people whose actions and words are thoughtful and ethical. Don’t be misled by the flashy, short term gratification game. Listen to that inner voice when something seems too good to be true because likely it is.

I shared how I agonized over taking time out of my career to be with my children and how I agonized when I went back to work that I was missing important moments of their childhood. Instead of worrying and wasting that energy – I should have fully enjoyed both life experiences – life is rarely perfect and balanced. The main message is that success needs to be measured by only what is meaningful to you – whatever that may be.

I am not living in fantasy land – money is necessary and ambition is not bad. I simply suggest running hard toward the things in life that replenish you and teach you more about the world. Think of how you can help others. Success can be graduating high school and college or volunteering weekly at a food bank. Success is driving a modest car you can afford rather than a luxury vehicle that forces you struggle to make the monthly payment. Success is knowing that people believe you will meet your commitments. A successful day is going back to your high school as an alumnus – sharing and connecting with students.

Remember: Don’t let others define what success should be for you – that’s for you to decide.


  • Barbara Polk

    Human Resources and Operations Executive

    Barbara is a business executive and coach with over 25 years of experience in human resources and operations leadership. Happily married to Alex, she is a mother of a blended family with five children (4 girls and 1 boy) and one fat English Lab. A fierce feminist, and believer of karma - she knows positive energy wins over negative every time.