Do you ever feel like the universe is trying to tell you something?

This week I’ve picked up on 3 different conversations, in 3 different places – all loosely about the same thing, namely what is success, what is failure?  With this being the time of year when exam results are looming it was all resonating with me.

The first conversation was with a friend who recommended a Ted Talk to me – one by Elizabeth Gilbert (her of Sleep, Pray, Love fame).  The essence of it is, nothing is a failure if you do what you love.  You can watch it here – TedTalk.

The second conversation was Carol Dweck speaking on Radio 4 about a new ethos for school learning called Growth Mindset.  She explained that it came about because when she was a child her teacher was keen on the measuring of IQs, so keen she sat her pupils around the classroom in order of IQ!  This obviously lit a spark within Ms Dweck and she decided to make a study of children’s teaching.  Her findings will surprise no one who has faith in human nature.  If a teacher already has preconceived ideas about a child’s performance then, surprise surprise, the child will pick up on that and will conform to the expectations.  Conversely, if a teacher has no previous expectations, encourages, and believes in a child, the sky is the limit. Ms Dweck said this proves that intelligence can grow.  She used the example of a maths question, if you get one wrong and work on it until you get it right your brain grows more than if you had got the question right the first time, so failure makes you more intelligent.  Isn’t that amazing and inspiring in equal measure?

For the third conversation I was waiting in the car as you do, and listened to a podcast of Emma Thompson’s Desert Island Disks.  When she won her Oscar for the screenplay of Sense and Sensibility she was courted assiduously by people in Hollywood who wanted her to move there.  She decided she never would as what would she do?  Who would she know?  A successful life for her was not jetting off to LA, wearing size zero, getting botox until no one recognised her and leaving her old life behind.  Her definition of success was living a life that was continuous – family, friends, places and tradition, it is what she loves.

So I think the sum of these conversations is; the definition of success is a very personal thing, it’s doing what you want, not what other people want for you and doing what you want makes you happy.  So good luck to all students (and their parents) in the coming weeks, I hope the path (whether straight or winding) leads to a happy place.