Finding Success


I recently stumbled upon this ‘Career Ladder’ banner displayed in a secondary school. It raises many questions in my mind that I think are important to pick apart. Whether you are involved in the realm of education and schools or not, the issues and messages represented in this poster are important to analyse and critique.

What is success?

Success is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. It is completely dependent upon an individuals background, culture, beliefs and interests and most importantly comes in many different forms. Inevitably, the ideas, questions and comments made in this post are wholly dependent upon an individuals value system and therefore may well present an entirely different view to someone else. It is important to note this before beginning!

This sign presents a picture of how to achieve career success. Is this really the route to a successful career? How many successful people found their success by following this pathway? It would be interesting to dissect lists such as Time’s 100 most influential people in the world list and analyse the members of this list whom followed the linear, results driven, standardised pathway that this banner suggests leads to a successful career.

Traditional stories of entrepreneurial or business success are often characterised by individuals who left school at the age of 16, who performed poorly in terms of academia, or dropped out of university. Obviously, there are many, many successful people in these areas who did indeed follow more traditional routes. For example, the founders of Google both followed education pathways and indeed, found great success! However, while I am obviously not suggesting that schools should encourage their pupils to ‘drop out’ (and I’m not suggesting that pupils should all seek success in the business world), what is clear is that there is more than one route to success, more than one ‘type’ of success and I think young people need to be aware of the range of factors that can influence their routes to achievement.

In my opinion, compartmentalising a pathway to success may actually have the opposite effect. Rather than narrowing young people’s visions of how to become successful, we should open their eyes and minds to their possibilities and to the skills and understanding they will need beyond a Level 4 at 11 years old. Too often, schools can fail to consider the great disparity between skills needed for an innovative and progressive future workforce who can drive the solutions to global problems of the future and those that are being promoted within some current systems of education. Note: There are, I am sure, many schools truly working hard to drive the development of these skills in their pupils with great success. 

In what ways is finding ‘success’ as linear as this? Does this pathway take into account the great variation between what is needed from individuals in different types of career? What reality is there in the messages this pathway portrays? What are the messages to those who don’t or can’t achieve at each stage? How are pupils choices and individual passions represented in this process?

A quick browse of the ‘What is success’ playlist of TED talks and you discover Richard St. John who, after interviewing members of the TED community about how they found their successes, synthesises their answers into several key themes behind finding success.

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It is through finding your ‘passion’ and working hard with a clear focus; persisting through criticism, rejection and pressure; holding and imagining big ideas; getting really good at something through practise; pushing yourself mentally and physically; and serving others something of value that St. John suggests individuals can find success.

He goes on to reflect on success as a continuous journey rather than a defined process with clear end.

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Would this message support and develop young people into successful people with successful futures more effectively than the current message of our education system? Regardless of your thoughts and answers to that question, what is clear to me is that the one pathway for all approach suggested through this banner is not necessarily helpful in creating innovative thinkers who are going to take control of their own development, find and discover their own focus, their own ideas and truly persist through the range of barriers that they will face on their way to finding success.

Interesting current reading connected (loosely) to this:

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