Define Success

successIn many school district mission statements I read, the words “success” and/or “successful” often appear.  Preparing children to be successful after a PK-12 experience… what exactly does that mean?

Will their education provide them with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in their world? Is that how one becomes successful? Is it about attending a post-secondary institution?  Is it about a paycheck? Is it about contributing and giving back to society?

[cc licensed photo by RambergMediaImages]

The other day, I had a conversation with some friends about the push to send more kids to college. I brought up the fact that, perhaps, not everyone needs or should go to college. There was a hushed silence right after I finished my sentence… imagine a teacher saying that maybe college isn’t for everyone?!?!

I quickly followed up with an explanation- my point isn’t that some kids aren’t worthy of a college degree. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. For some kids, college isn’t worthy of them. Not everyone needs to spend exorbitant tuition fees (and dormitory costs, and textbooks, and…) to find their niche in life.

There’s a young man I know, about 22 years old, who attended a trade school and learned about auto mechanics. He LOVES cars. He can tell you nearly anything you want to know about an engine. He can fix nearly any vehicle. At this time, he is employed by a very large company in our city, and he makes a very nice living. More importantly, he’s very happy doing what he does. A typical four-year institution was not in his master plan.

I told his story, and instantly, a friend replied, “Oh, and he will probably make more money than most of us will in our lifetime and not have the same amount of debt from all those college loans!”  A few others replied with more statements about how much money this kid would go on to make.  As I asked them a few questions, it became very evident to me that their measure of success was the amount of money he would make.

Is that what we’re supposed to be preparing kids to do after they leave school? Make a lot of money? Is that the measure of “success?”

Silly me, but I thought it was something as simple as this:

  • find your strengths
  • find your passion
  • find a way to make the world around you a little better than how you found it

That’s MY definition of being successful. What’s yours?

12 thoughts on “Define Success

  1. Unfortunately I do it to! I a lot of times look at the money that comes from something and think, “wow, that would be nice”. I don’t stop and think if the person with the money is happy doing what they do. As a teacher… I AM HAPPY WITH WHAT I DO!

  2. What an awesome story! Great thoughts that are spoken in a respectful, clear manner that asks us to think before we speak. If money was the measure of success, then we might have to argue that, as teachers, we are not very successful! However, I would say that as an educator, when I help students like your 22-year-old young man, I find myself very successful.

    Thanks for tweeting your blog!

    • I think, Sylvia, that quite a lot of people believe that teachers are NOT successful- or at least worthy of respect as a profession. I’ve heard too much teacher-bashing lately in the media and from people that I know. It’s rather funny, actually, as they start railing on teachers and then slowly remember that I am one. haha We need to continue finding success in what we do with kids, because it’s so important! Thanks for replying!

  3. This is an excellent post, and touches on a topic important for teachers to consider. Your thoughts remind me of my favorite quote on success. “Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be.” -George Sheehan That is exactly what I hope for my students, and it sounds like the 22-year-old man you mention has accomplished this in a big way.

  4. I enjoy coming across a question that makes me pause and focus. You raise a question, “What is success?” that certainly calls for reflection. I like the way the altruism in the last of your concluding three points eliminates the possible self-aggrandizement the previous two might prompt. I wonder; however, if the answer would be also be determined by the context?

    • Very astute observation! I didn’t really think about it that way as I was writing, but without the third point, the other two could be problematic. Would be interested to hear your ideas about context. Thanks!

  5. Terrific post Michelle. Last week, during a district visioning event that included teachers, administrators, educational assistants, parents and students a small group of discussed this exact question. How does one define success? After discussing the many perspectives, we ended up right where we started. And that is that a person’s success can only truly be defined by oneself. What is of importance is that through the course of education, students develop the knowledge, skills and participate in experiences that enable them to define and re-define their own success.

    • I like the idea that success can be defined by oneself… but when schools guarantee or strive in their mission to help students become successful, what does that mean? When schools have goals of sending a certain percentage of students to college, then “success” is now defined for the students. I don’t know. I’m still struggling with this myself. Thank you so much for weighing in, Aaron!

  6. Michelle,
    It seems to be such a simple question you started your entry off with: What exactly does that (success) mean? Yet is seems to have gotten so convoluted into a mess based upon social pressure and expectation, capitalism, and $$$. I have to say that as I read through your entry, I started to feel sorry for our youth today and what they must be fed by their surroundings as to what they need to do to be ‘successful.’ At the end of it, I completely agree with your definition. On a similar note about marks, I just told one of my classes yesterday that I thought it was quite sad that our school system minimizes them to 3 key strokes (a tens digit, ones digit and a % sign) and that it was more important to find their passion and run with it.
    Great post!

  7. Truth is, if you look at most of the game-changing creatives in the world, they never finished college, if they even went at all.

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