Everyone has an idea of what “success” means. And the general idea probably looks pretty similar for most – someone doing well overall; emotionally, financially, and spiritually. They probably have a good job, a good head on their shoulders, money in their pocket, and a good future ahead of them. They are moving along in their life, and they appear happy and fulfilled.
Although up front this dream may appear rather simple, figuring out the specifics, or one’s own path to reaching such success, is the real challenge. What decisions must be made so that one can have a successful life? Does education today prepare students to answer these difficult life questions?
Education blogger Tom Whitby touches on the lack of focus in K-12 schools on critical and out-of-the box thinking in this era of standardizing testing. “We talk about personalized learning for each student… We recognize that all kids are created differently. Even in consideration of all that, we standardize their assessment… We are not matching up the skills that our children will need in a future that we know little about to the education we provide today. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.”
“We cannot continue on the current path of education if we want to prepare our children for their future,” he declares. “Our children will not live in the world that we grew up in. We need to prepare them to be flexible, critical thinking, problem solvers. They need to be able to get beyond the limitations of their teachers and parents.”
In Alain de Botton’s TED talk “A kinder, gentler philosophy of success,” Botton points out that our ideas of success are often greatly influenced by society, by ads, and by our parents, and that we are highly susceptible to suggestion. We are also, Botton says, very worried about what others think of us.
“When we think about failing in life, when we think about failure, one of the reasons why we fear failing is not just a loss of income, a loss of status. What we fear is the judgment and ridicule of others. And it exists,” Botton said.
Botton suggests that we take care to ensure that our ambitions are our own, and that we recognize that “success” cannot exist without “failure.”
A paradox in our society, Botton continued, is the simultaneous existence of both the belief that we are all equal – that anyone can achieve anything – and low self-esteem. Suicide rates, he explains, are higher in the developed countries than anywhere else in the world. “[S]ome of the reason for that is that people take what happens to them extremely personally. They own their success. But they also own their failure,” he said. Our society, furthermore, and now more then ever before, attributes success to one’s own work ethic, ability, and determination; we believe that people deserve the lives they have, because we are all supposed to be in the driving seat.
In other words, we are supposed to have all that we need to succeed. However, disparities, gaps, influences, and circumstance, all exist and perpetuate inequalities within our society, and the individual is not always in control. We are not all on an equal playing field, either; we do not all have equal opportunities. This is not an excuse, but something that deserves consideration and care. America will continue to work towards the dream of a meritocratic society, but this dream is impossible to fully realize.