The Path to Success Isn’t Always the Obvious One

While seemingly a normal Thursday, May 1st is a day that will be embedded in the minds of high school seniors and future grad students alike as the day that forever changed the course of their lives. For those of you who haven’t been near a campus in a while, May 1 is the traditional admissions deadline for most U.S. colleges and universities. It is the day that students have to make their final decisions about which school to attend and is also when the fate of wait-listed students is decided.

The Seattle Times ran an article highlighting the cutthroat college admissions process and the bitter taste of not being accepted to a first choice school:

“The college-admissions process is an initiation rite into adulthood,” says Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, an adolescent medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and an author of books on teenage stress. “But if success is defined very narrowly, such as a fat envelope from a specific college, then many kids end up going through it and feeling like a failure.”

Students complain about a lack of sleep, stomach pain and headaches, but doctors and educators also worry that stress tied to academic achievement can lead to depression, eating disorders and other mental-health problems.

The college admissions game is many young people’s introduction to the self-exploration and interviewing process. They are forced to determine their interests, strengths and decide what type of environment would make them happiest. They must compile information about available institutions, majors and benefits. They have to fill out forms, write personal essays and jump through endless hoops just to impress a panel of six people they’ve never met. This is very similar to the job-search process.

What worries me about these students, and their job-hunting counterparts, is that they pin their entire life’s hope on receiving an offer letter from the college or company of their choice. Anytime stress causes physical reactions such as stomach pain or eating disorders, there must be a problem. And the problem is that we as a society are much to focuses on status—the status of getting into an Ivy League school, the status of getting a top job at a large firm so we can race around in BMWs and show everyone how successful we are.

Living your life according to someone else’s model of success does not make you one.

Most young people are taught the following model, which I’ve written about before, and assume that it will lead them to personal fulfillment and happiness:

Good Grades + Good College = Corporate Career + Happiness & Success

What is unfortunate is that people don’t realize this isn’t the only model for success. I know lots of people who went away to “good” college only to come home after freshman year or not even make it past the first semester because of homesickness, poor grades or just plain unhappiness with the situation they had chosen. They may have felt like failures at the time, but all managed to pick themselves up, create a new situation, and were happier in the long run.

A guidance counselor interviewed for the story in the Seattle Times had some great advice for high school seniors and workers alike:

“Bloom where you are planted.”

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4 responses »

  1. Point taken, too bad I didn’t realise this earlier… even if I had have recognized it at graduation time when I walked away with my degree into my new life of uncertainty I would be in a better place than I am now.

  2. I transitioned from Canadian High School to American University (no, not AU) without going through the SAT/application hysterics — I’m equal parts grateful and curious to see how things could have been different. I was accepted as an ‘international student’ at a decent State school, and have done pretty well (if I may say so myself).

    Raising my daughter, I’m already concerned about the application process — even more than I am worried about financing. I’m also wondering if, in 15 years, the pendulum will have swung back with regards to higher education — maybe a college degree won’t be the baseline prerequisite (and virtually worthless as a differentiator) and work/life experience will be more valued. Either way, I hope she’ll be armed with drive, determination, and optimism. That’s always a path to success, isn’t it?

  3. Pingback: Medicine » Blog Archive » The Path to Success Isn’t Always the Obvious One

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