I’ve been teaching for almost 30 years and in that time I’ve come across tens of thousands of students. I’ve listened to their dreams, their fears, their misconceptions and their ‘voices of doubt’. I’ve done what I can to furnish them with sound advice. As I look back, I get the privilege of hearing the success stories. Unfortunately, I also get to hear of stories where the outcomes are less than rosy.
The ability to achieve success or experience failure seems to me to have …very little to do with academic ability or academic intelligence or lack thereof.
Success doesn’t come to those who wait, or to those who dream, it comes to those that do. I am talking here, of course, primarily in terms of career success. You work for a long time in this world, so I tell my students to focus on those areas that they are passionate about and that keep them energised. And, in later life, if you find yourself in work that does not promote those positive feelings, leave it behind. And yes, I know that’s a risk. But better taking the risk than leading an unfulfilled life.
I remember hearing a story from a retiring Head Teacher which has remained with me throughout my career. He talked of a time twenty or so years after the end of World War 2 when he was starting out. His first appointment was as a teacher in a small boarding school in the South of England. He had been there for less than a year when during morning break on a sunny May morning, the Classics teacher, a military type, stood up from his chair and bellowed to the assembled staff members, ‘Righto, I’m off!’ before proceeding to the coat stand, taking his coat from the peg and placing a black trilby on his head. The staff room fell utterly silent as no one really knew what the gentleman actually meant.
The Headmaster, also from a military background, stood up. ‘What do you mean, old fellow? You’re off?’
‘Indeed, Headmaster.’ The elderly gentlemen looked around at the puzzled faces of the other teachers. ‘You see, my friends, they’ve become the enemy. And that’s not right, is it.’ He was, as it turns out, talking of his pupils. He could no longer see the good in them, he only saw that which displeased him. He recognised that fact and acted upon it.
You have to admire that level of self-knowledge, the ability to see his own fault and his determination to do something about it. Apparently, so the story goes, he did indeed march straight out of the school’s front door, walked down the main driveway and was never seen or heard of again. But I’d be willing to bet that his life improved. I’m also willing to bet that so too did the life of his pupils.
We have to be prepared to change if we are fundamentally unhappy. We all have a right to happiness and it’s out there for each of us. I often say to my students if you’re on the wrong train, get off at the next stop and travel in a different direction. Whatever you do, though, don’t get off the train and sit in the waiting room.