What are the secrets of success? As the academic year commences, I offer three guidelines to Cheadle Hulme School students about how to attain success.
No.1: Search for your limitations.
Everyone has them. We cannot be brilliant at everything; we may not be suited for everything. But finding our limits is a really good thing. It is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.
‘Shouldn’t she be telling them to find their strengths?’ Well yes, but I fear that if I tell students to look only for what they are really good at, they will go down a pretty narrow path – when they find something, they may stop looking.
Here comes a simple analogy:
Imagine you have a large pencil case, full of many different coloured pens. And I tell you to find the one that doesn’t work. This one represents your limits. As you look for it, the chances are you will find many other pens that do work; you take each one out of the pencil case, you test it, find out that it works and put it to one side. Eventually you will find that useless one, but during your search, you will have encountered many other working pens – great colours, that work. If that useless one represents your limits, then all those other pens are the things that you can do. They each have something for you, and once your search is done, you can go back and make the most of them. If I had instructed you to find a pen that works, the likelihood is that you would have found one straight away and stopped searching. You would never have discovered the other pens that worked even better.
To find your limits, you have to ‘be active’. And I firmly believe that in being active, you discover your potential and give yourself the possibility of success.
No.2: If you want to be successful, be prepared to make mistakes.
You can put most people into one of two groups: those who ‘do’ and those who ‘don’t’. The ‘do-ers’ will have a go at things: they might well like to be brilliant at everything they have a go at, but for most people in this category, they get much of their enjoyment from simply trying things out, by saying ‘Yes, I’ll have a go at that’. And with every effort and attempt that they make, they learn about themselves and this gives them confidence. And they get better.
The other group is the ‘I don’t think I’ll like/be brilliant at that so I won’t even try it’ group. The people in this group are not giving themselves a chance to discover their strengths. As a consequence, they will often not have the same levels of confidence as others; by saying no to getting involved they have said ‘no’ to discovering themselves.
In his book ‘Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need’, Daniel Pink makes six key points about how to make a success of your career, one of which is ‘Make Excellent Mistakes.’ He explains: ‘Too many people spend their time avoiding mistakes. They’re so concerned about being wrong, about messing up, that they never try anything – which means they never do anything. Their focus is avoiding failure. But that’s actually a crummy way to achieve success. The most successful people make spectacular mistakes. Why? They’re trying to do something big. But each time they make a mistake, they get better and move a little closer to excellence.’
No.3: Give yourself options.
I believe that a successful life is one in which a person has given themselves options, where they have a range of alternative paths to choose from. This takes hard work.
Increasingly we are seeing young people having to make really big decisions which are pushing them down a very narrow track with no promise of success and very few choices at the end of it. Aspiring footballers are too often told to play only that sport and only for that academy. As a Head, I worry about this as these young people are having their options withdrawn, not least when they sacrifice their academic education for the beautiful game.
Keep your options open for as long as possible; work really hard to make the best of your full self, not only one part.
The Magic Ingredient?
Luck may well play her part in your lives and you need to be ready. She shines her light for only the briefest time, but if you seize hold of the opportunity she gives you and work really hard, you can flourish. There is a famous saying: ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get.’
As the new year gathers momentum, I hope that it is a successful year for every Cheadle Hulme School student, particularly for those who work to seek their limitations, who are willing to make mistakes and commit to developing their whole selves.
Head, Lucy Pearson