What Does Education Teach Us About Success?

17 July, 2015

I had a crisis recently about my ability to help my son, who achieved an excellent report from school.

Let’s get this into perspective: he is only 5 and I am 39 so have many years to draw on. My concern was that on the one hand I really want him to excel in ticking all the boxes of school by getting good grades and conquering the curriculum, but on the other hand I know from experience that excellent grades are not what cause people to excel if life. In fact, having thought about many of the excellent academic achievers I knew at school and university, I can’t think of one who has gone on to change the world and achieve ‘excellence’ (whatever that is!) later in life.

What I do know is that in the work place, those who self-promote seem to climb the tree fastest and highest. As an employer I have even been guilty of buying into self-promoters who have turned out not to be able to walk the good talk they give.

When you read books like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Bounce by Matthew Syed, you find that a pattern of excellence is almost exclusively down to a repeated and religious dedication to a subject. What follows with this mastery and reward is an ability to self promote, hence why the top golfers are not just great swingers of a metal stick but they are indeed great self promoters, they have to believe in themselves and that is different to being excellent at something. Post-Wimbledon, Rafa Nadal has admitted he is having a crisis of confidence. He is physically fit and knows the game of tennis inside out but without full belief in himself he is the lesser player.

I would argue that focusing purely on the technical and academic is in fact a red herring that will see you hit a brick wall in the real world of work. You might find yourself saying things like ‘I can’t believe he has been promoted, he has no idea how to do the job!’ or ‘She gets paid way more than me yet I work harder and know more than her.’

The reality is that unless you absolutely believe that you deserve more and put yourself out there to get it, all the academic education in the world will only take you to one level. Self belief and self promotion taught in an ethical fashion could do as much for a human being’s fulfilment and achievement in life as all the fractions, syntax and metrics any conventional education could deliver.