The successful graduate

What qualities lead to success in life? Is it high scores on standardized tests? Perhaps it is the ability to earn straight A’s in school. Or perhaps it is linked to a high IQ. Obviously, there are a host of interrelated factors that play into the success of any single individual. However, after considering a handful of highly successful individuals, I’d propose the following qualities as important:

**Goal Oriented
**Gumption (spirited initiative and resourcefulness)
**Problem Solving

As shared in a “Number 1 Predictor of College Success”, one of the greatest predictors of success in college is having a goal or end in mind. After all, if you are just wandering aimlessly, when the going gets tough, it makes a lot more sense to retreat. If, on the other hand, you are clear about what you want to accomplish and if your goal is important to you, when the going gets tough, you are much more likely to choose to ‘get tougher.’

When I review the life stories of highly successful people, I find that most have experienced disappointments along the way, and many of them flat-out had failure after failure. Consider Henry Ford whose early business ventures left him broke five times before he successfully launched Ford Motor Company. Or how about Walt Disney who was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Then there was Thomas Edison who was not only told by teachers he was “too stupid to learn anything,” he was fired by two employers and had 1,000 failed attempts at inventing the lightbulb. What do these people have in common? I’d suggest, they had gumption, the ability and drive to pick themselves up, learn from their experiences and push ahead in spite of adversity.

As for adaptability, most people agree, we are in the greatest period of rapid change at any point in history. To fail to recognize the value of adaptability would be akin to suggesting the Pope’s not Catholic.

Regardless of the role at hand, we are all called upon to make decisions and solve problems. Some are complex, others not so much. Some problems have high stakes outcomes and many moving parts such as how to combat poverty, while others such as whether to have grape jelly or honey with my peanut butter sandwich are less critical. The point is, successful people have the ability to consider the pertinent factors, imagine options, evaluate potential outcomes, and then decide on the most prudent course of action. (This in no way suggest that every decision will be a home run.)

Highly successful people are also willing to take responsibility and be held accountable. They are not victims of their circumstances, rather than are the creators of their circumstances. When they get it wrong, they accept the responsibility, learn from the mistake and move on.

If you agree that above qualities are important and maybe even predictive of success in life, I have to ask. How are they being nurtured, and measured in schools?

About Deb

I am a lifelong educator with experience in special education, counseling and staff development. Special interests outside of my chosen career field include entrepreneurship, investing and financial literacy.
This entry was posted in School Reform, Success in School, Testing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The successful graduate

  1. ed says:

    I like what you’ve written. I would add another sub quality to “gumption”. That would be refusing to take no for an answer. Most successful people that I’ve known or read about simply refuse to take “well we’ve always done it this way” as an acceptable practice.

    As to how we nurture or measure these attributes is another story. I know we work on them in class but sadly, I’m hard pressed to think of a way that our school or myself measures these gems. I’m open to idea’s.

  2. Deb says:

    I have to agree with you. When ‘mission’ is clear, hearing ‘no’ should just be a pothole not a ‘road closed.’ Thanks for adding to my list.

  3. They don’t measure gumption per say…but they are starting to measure “grit” which is very similar to what you are suggesting. University of Penn researcher Angela Duckworth has an online test:

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