Education Leads to Success, but How to Define Success?

success-handandsunAll parents want their children to succeed in life, and we know success is directly tied to education. When we talk about a good education, we talk a lot about success.

But what is success, anyway? While many of us have a strong inkling of what we mean by success, it can be a hard concept to pin down. The question has become even more ambiguous as the very notion of success is now being scrutinized. And yet, we all educate for it.

Paul Tough wrote a whole book about how children succeed, a New York Times best-selling analysis of research and new education theories that everyone is suddenly buzzing about. We are learning that IQ does not determine success. Tough names grit, perseverance, curiosity, social intelligence and other character traits as part of the recipe for success. He emphasizes, based on well-founded research, that character traits, not cognitive skills measured by IQ tests, lead to success.

If the recipe for success is changing — steering away from cognitive skill development alone to also emphatically emphasize development of personality traits — is the definition of success also changing?

A month has passed since school started. For other families, this month marks the beginning of a six- to nine-months-long admissions process for elementary, middle, high school or college enrollment next fall. In these early months of a new phase of your child’s education journey, ask yourself: What is success in this new paradigm? What does the combination of cognitive skills and character traits lead to?

At the start of my workshops, I ask parents what they most want for their children, long-term, as a result of the child’s education. Most parents want their children to be happy, fulfilled, passionate, confident and contributing to society. Their answers all represent various definitions of success.

How do you define success?

Is success defined by:

Money? Does it ensure a comfortable lifestyle? How do sustenance and survival feature in what we mean by success?

Health? It seems basic but also essential to consider mental, physical and emotional well-being.

Relationships? Family and friends are critical to the emotional survival of a person. What facets of relationships show up in your definition of success?

Career achievement and status? Fame is a glorified version of being acknowledged, seen and accepted. Don’t we all want to be acknowledged? What parent is not proud when she sees her child being applauded?

Impact on the world? Success can be measured by the changes one brings about to make the world a better place. Is it about technological innovation? Is it about justice? Fairness? A more peaceful world and your contribution toward that end?

Passion? Does following your passion, to a high level of excellence, for the sake of pursuing it, represent success? Do creativity and innovation in the pursuit of that passion define success? It is said that the pursuit of your passion sends out ripples of positive impact in the sphere around you. Is that success?

Raising the next generation? Whether seen with humanistic eyes or microscopically as the work of our genes, we are here to procreate. Do you define the success of your life (and eventually your children’s lives) by how you raise your children and the indirect, long-term impact that comes from doing so?

Being your true self? Ancient traditions and New Age thinking point us to self-awareness, union with the oneness of the universe as the ultimate self-actualization of a human being. Can you call that success?

All of the above? How do you define success for yourself? How do you define it for your children? What vision of success do you hope to share with them, through their education and your family life?

Your answer to this fundamental question, whether stated explicitly or held in the secret passages of your mind and heart, lays the foundation for supporting your child’s education. How you perceive success will define the kind of school you choose for your child, the ways in which you will advocate for your child, the resources of time, community goodwill and treasure you will bring to bear for her education. Your particular and specific definition of success will define the battles you will pick and the ones you will encourage her to take on.

By stating your ideas of success clearly, you empower yourself with a clear vision of the ultimate goal of education, and of, dare I say, her life and your life. This one question will color your parenting for a fulfilling education and your child’s own educational goals.

Please join Anoo on Wednesday, Oct. 3 at 1 p.m. for a live ParentMap-hosted webinar (which will be archived on our Education Expo portal for later viewing as well) exploring how to find the right school fit for your child and family.


Anoo Padte helps parents choose the right school, coaches on parenting for a fulfilling education and provides math and science enrichment. She is a certified teacher, coach, speaker and writer. She has been interviewed locally and nationally on school choice. Learn more at Art of Education.

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