Harvard, hard work or something else?

We had our 25-year reunion at school last month. Meeting friends after so long was quite refreshing. We could drop the masks donned for our professional lives and experience the child within even if only for a few days. The Hyderabad Public School (HPS) has quite a reputation. From leaders of the world’s top IT companies to politicians to sportsmen, HPS has produced the most distinguished alumni among schools in India.

As I mingled with my classmates from decades ago, one thing struck me. There was absolutely no correlation between how we did in school, whether in academics, sports or other extra-curricular activities and how we did in life - neither a positive nor a negative correlation. It seemed completely random. 

This begs the question: is all the pressure that parents put on their kids these days to do well in school worth it? Several kids kill themselves because of this. I wish parents would realise the futility of getting good grades, admission into great schools and colleges and being a part of the rat-race.

What is it then that can ensure success in life? It is impossible to put this down to one or two things. There are several factors. Hard work, social skills, communication, shrewdness of the mind, being street-smart are just some of them. A lot of it is also being in the right place at the right time. Some people call this luck.

While we’re at it, what exactly is success, really? Is it money? Is it fame? Power? For each of us, success means different things. For an individual, the meaning of success changes with age as well.

Personally, I have come to realise that success is much more than money, fame or power. It is difficult to describe what success is. Vaguely, I think it is something to do with happiness. If you are in a state of contentment, have days filled with joy, irrespective of how much money you have, how famous and powerful you are, you can consider yourself successful. Again, there is no inverse correlation either. It does not mean that wealthy, famous and powerful people are not happy or successful. Just that like your school report card, these are not the only measures of success.

This reunion had a simple message for me: a gold medal in school does not guarantee a gold medal in the race of life.


Nishant said…
Very well said KB! :)
Anand M said…
Kamal, it was interesting to read your insight about the correlation between success at school and in adult life. As you indicated, there is a confluence of factors that determines personal outcomes, many are uncontrollable and many are driven by the luck of the draw. However, I do think there is moderate correlation that may be masked by these factors.

This could be more of a measurement problem than a lack of correlation. I have always felt that marks and medals don’t always fairly capture the holistic benefit / success of doing well at both- something like the sum is greater than the parts because they cannot measure everything. Also I feel that success is somewhat time bound in the school scenario (do well in exams and you succeed), but is inaccurate in predicting real life impact. For example, person A may do worse at English than person B in school. But it is possible that Person A draws more from learning English (or elements of writing) even as they “underperformed” in school and ends up nurturing their interest and ultimately surpassing Person B.

I do agree that the definition of success is quite nebulous. I like the idea of defining it subjectively by happiness.

Feel bad that I missed the reunion. Lovely blog.

Kamal D Shah said…
Thanks for stopping by and leaving the comments Nishant and Anandam.

I see your point Anandam. The trouble is even today, most of us measure success by marks and medals alone. That is why you see the mad race for marks in Indian schools and colleges. It’s high time we moved away from the notion that 97 is better than 92.

Another major problem is with the emnphasis on Engineering and Medicine. Pick anything else and you’re toast. After all these years, I feel I should have picked English Literature or History after my tenth. :-)
JP Rajesh Trivedi said…
cant agree more. baseline is if your having fun in whatever you are doing, no one can stop you from excelling. If the process is enjoyable, result is definetely going to be a grand success.