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In our age, Napoleon Hill considered it a result of thinking and behaving in a certain way. He believed that following success principles led to riches. So does success start with getting good grades?
Today, when we spend the first twenty or more years of our lives in school, we tend to think of success as getting good grades. We’re often told that those who get As in class will lead a first-class life. But is it true?
When he delivered the Southern Methodist University commencement address, Former President George W. Bush said, “To those of you who are graduating this afternoon with high honors, awards and distinctions, I say, ‘Well done.’ And as I like to tell the C students: You, too, can be president.”
Although it was meant as a self-denigrating joke, there may have been a grain of truth to it.
Other presidents had trouble in school, along with plenty of other culturally significant people. Besides being tech billionaires, what else do Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? They all dropped out of college. In fact, some billionaires like Sir Richard Branson never even made it to college and dropped out of high school.
One explanation for this anomaly offered by Ken Sundheim, owner of KAS Placement Staffing, is that those with high scholastic success have low-risk tolerance and can’t make it in the real world.
“For the honors student, their prestigious diploma is a culmination of an ability to follow rules exceedingly well and to adhere to the requests of authoritative figures similar to managers. For this reason, their lives become too structured to ever feel comfortable in highly uncertain, risky situations where they could lose everything they worked for throughout their scholastic career.”
Making Sense of the Puzzle
It’s easy to dismiss our parents, teachers, and society at large for merely exaggerating the value of education. Yet this opinion was based on some sound logic.
- The ability to read, write, and calculate makes it much easier to navigate the symbolic world we live in.
- The ability to study and learn new things can help you master anything that you need to learn.
- An employer would rather hire someone who shows an aptitude for getting the work done.
- The rate of knowledge is growing at a rapid rate and someone who lacks the basic skills to understand and use new information will rapidly fall behind.
The contradiction between doing well in school and not doing well in life is resolved when we add another factor to the equation. Success in life is not always about grades; it’s about the will to win.
The Will to Win
The will to win in school is different than the will to win in life. In school, everything is structured for you. All you have to do is keep up with the curriculum. In life, nothing is structured for you, and you have to figure things out as you go along (usually with street smarts).
Basically, we’re talking about two different domains. Excellence in school may help you figure things out, but intellectual ability alone is not enough to do well in life. To do well in life, you need to have a number of the following ten character traits:
- You learn from your mistakes.
- You persist even when things aren’t going your way.
- You do things that are unfamiliar and make you feel uncomfortable.
- You control your moods, even when the going gets tough.
- You set goals, make plans, and take action.
- You are focused on excellence.
- You are willing to spend a long time getting good at something.
- You learn to tough it out.
- You do your best without being neurotic about it.
- You give much more than you initially receive.
Character and Life
Education is a good thing, and it will become increasingly important as we move deeper into this age of knowledge. However, it is not a guarantee for success by itself. Achievement in any field calls for many character traits that create the will to win.
School is predictable. Life is not. Everything can change quickly. Moreover, it’s not always true that A students don’t do well in the real world and that C students do. So it’s not that school makes us unfit for life; it just doesn’t prepare us for the many challenges we will face when we get into the real world.