Monday, 18 May 2015

What does it mean to be successful?

This is a good question to ask, at this time of year in particular. All around the country, thousands of students are taking public exams, the supposed outcome of the factory that is school. The measure of success, for the schools concerned as well as the students themselves, is resting on the performance of 16 - 18 year olds. Exam season is as old as the hills; your parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents and so on back hundreds of years have all been through this period of time.  

But is that what success is? Passing a set of exams? Now, don't get me wrong; passing exams is a product of our society and is a gateway to our futures. There is no getting around that and unless (or until) a new system is devised, we are going to have to ensure that we perform in these exams, whenever they are. Every teacher in the school has had to go through what you have to go through. And the workplace of the future, your future, is going to continue to be a tough one. Getting the grades, passing the exams, is not an optional extra, but is a barrier to a wide range of futures. You do need to pass the exams, whether they're GCSEs, BTECS, A-levels, or anything else. That is, as is said in the business world, non-negotiable.

But they are not, then, an automatic pass to the future. There's so much more to being successful, so many more ways to define it.

Success has two meanings; the first is a relatively simple one - to accomplish a desired aim or result. So, I can say that I am successful in terms of having helped to set up this school; Sandymoor School exists and  is recognised as a very good school. Result, as they say. Mission accomplished. 

But the other, probably more common, definition of success is more tricky. This definition says that success is to 'have achieved fame, wealth or social status'. Really? Well, am I successful, then? No, I'm not wealthy, certainly am not famous and what does it actually mean to have social status anyway? 

The problem with success is that it actually means something different for each and every person. What is success for me may well mean absolutely nothing for you. I feel that I am successful; I feel like I am doing a good job (although that's for others to judge), am reasonably healthy, have enough money to enjoy nice things, have nice holidays, etc., and have family and friends around me to share the good times & support through the bad. I feel like I'm making a difference, which is important to me. That's success. For me. 

And that's the point. What is success for you? It comes in a number of categories to start with.

Friendship - are you a good friend? Do you have people around you who accept you for who you are & like you for who you are? Do you like people for who they are, rather than what they can do for you?  

Health - are you living a healthy life? Do you eat the right sort of food? Do you ensure that you exercise so your heart & lungs are kept healthy enough to see you through the rest of your life?

Future - you may not know what you want to be or do when you leave school, but you do need to face the reality that this is going to happen, and soon. In fact, the vast majority of you will be able to vote the next time we have a general election - you will be adult enough to be asked to have a say in how the country runs, so you should be adult enough to have a say in how you are then! As I said, exams are not everything, but they are a barrier if you don't give them & the lessons, the time they deserve. School is not a social event where how you look or who you're seen with is more important than anything else. Go down that route and you will be alone and miserable, with no exams and a limited future ahead of you.

But there's so much you can do about that. Believe that you can do anything you want. Yes, there's a lot you don't know. There's a whole pile of stuff I don't know. But you know what? If you refuse to ask someone for help, because you don't want to look stupid, then you'll never know what you can do, and you'll never grow.

In every field, whether it's sport, business, or entertainment, the message is clear. If you are not prepared to put the work in, and to risk something you are not sure about; i.e. try something new, something that you are not sure about, then you'll never get anywhere.

Take Stephen Gerrard; whether you are a reds fan or not, there is no doubt that, for over 15 years he has been successful at his club. Awarded an MBE by the queen, regarded by everyone who should know as one of the very best players of his generation, Gerrard has made the decision to move on, to go to LA (& who wouldn't, if I'm honest!), to do something new and uncertain. He got where he is through hard work, persistence and a determination not take second best or 'good enough' in anything he did. And he got everything he deserved because of that. There's a message for all of us. Nothing comes to us on a plate - if something is worth wanting, then it's going to take hard work and determination to get it. But beyond that, we also need to be sure we don't rest on our seats when we think we have enough. Complacency, or laziness, can lead us to not challenge ourselves and we always need to be checking that we are doing the best we can be. That is why Gerrard is going to LA. (& for the weather, of course…).

So a simple message: What does success look like for you? And not success now, where it could be something as simple as having a certain group of friends, or having a specific gadget, but what does success look like for you in 5 or 10 years? Don't let anyone else pull you down or persuade you to be a certain way; instead, work out your own way. It's a dilemma for each generation; every young person wants to be individual, to not be like everyone else, and yet the herd mentality pulls us always to following the trend. And because we don't want to stand out. But if you like yourself, if you respect yourself and know you are doing the best you can, then that is a great start. If you are prepared to put in the work, to ensure you have the basis, the foundations on which your future will be built, then that's even better. You don't need to know the detail of what you are going to be like in 5 or 10 years, but you do need to plan for it. To ensure you don't put in any limits by following someone else. After all, it's very likely that in 10 years' time you will not see these people or have anything to do with them . . . If you follow someone else's dreams, you run the risk of being left abandoned in the fog, with no knowledge of where you are or how to get out.

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