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Guest Column: Life's biggest stand-out success lesson

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A ship is safe in the harbour. But, that is not what ships are built for: John A Shedd. Why does stand-out success elude the early achievers from making it finally in the game of life. Did they learn this ONE thing!

Think of that brightest one in your class back in school or college. Did they change the world or achieve extraordinary success?

Umpteen number of studies from time to time throw up statistics to show that achievers of the highest grades in schools and colleges as a ratio of proportion of overall extraordinary achievers almost always is weighed in favour of those who did not have those fancy grades and did not walk away with a gold medal at the passing out graduation ceremonies.

In his new book "Barking Up the Wrong Tree," Eric Barker explores the maxims we use to discuss success. He finds that just as nice guys don't always finish last, valedictorians rarely become stand-out successes.

Not to be misled - by standards of ordinary success, they do well and find good lives but they do NOT achieve extraordinary success to become billionaires who change the world.

Barker writes:

There was little debate that high school success predicted college success. Nearly 90 per cent are now in professional careers with 40 percent in the highest tier jobs. They are reliable, consistent and well-adjusted, and by all measures the majority have good lives.

But how many of these number-one high school performers go on to change the world, run the world or impress the world?

The answer seems to be clear: zero

Many academically brightest are acknowledged (even by themselves) to be as not the smartest students in their class but simply the hardest workers. Smartness is restricted to delivering against a teacher expectation rather than true 'imbibing' of the knowledge.

In fact, research demonstrates that students who truly enjoy learning the most often struggle in school, trying to trade off attention given to subjects about which they're truly passionate with the demands of their other distractions (read coursework). While intellectual students struggle with this tension, grade achievers excel.

The most valued traits in school are self-discipline, conscientiousness and the ability to comply with rules. The ability to disrupt the world or make extraordinary breakthroughs however requires NOT these traits.

The education system thrives on and rewards (remember the class monitor/rep) developing 'promising ones' with a positive trait of ‘trying to please everyone’. It is also the key to failure.

I can't give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time -- Herbert Bayard Swope.

The high-grade achievers make it their business to be the best. ‘Best’ in real life is a label. It’s something someone decides for you – the ‘educational institution’ in case of students. ‘Better’ is more personal which pushes you to embrace ‘highs and lows’ to find that unique attribute called 'individuality' as the key to success while the graduation ceremony sees hundreds of them in identical caps and gowns.

While the schools produce the best and the brightest to go and change the world, the achievers forget to unlearn to challenge notions and embrace uncertainty. The one thing that stands out is the inability of these ‘brightlings’ to encounter and treat real life's chaos as a part of the deal.

The ability to ‘shake things up’ is not a particularly well appreciated quality taught in schools.

That one thing that keeps these ‘lives of promise’ from making it as truly THE ONE therefore is

Unlearning is as important at all points in life as learning.

Anyone whose goal is 'something higher' must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves  ― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Education system mostly is akin to a ‘control experiment’ in science. Lots of mediocre students thrive outside a ‘controlled’ scholastic environment.

In the school, rules rule life.  In the messy game called life, Chaos rules everything!  Unlearn and embrace it for your success.

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(Piyush Sharma, a global tech, media and entrepreneurial leader, created the successful foray of Zee Entertainment in India and globally under the ‘Living’ brand. The views expressed here are of the writer’s and Indiantelevision.com may not subscribe to them.)

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