Friday, June 23, 2023

Parshas Korach 5783


This essay is not addressed to the valedictorian, salutatorian or graduate who received recognition at graduation. It’s geared towards the graduate who spent his/her years in school struggling, often feeling frustrated and not good enough in class. It is to the graduate who often felt he didn’t stand out and was never the source of his teacher’s pride. 

In life, our understanding of anything is based on our perspective. I want to share a perspective on your future and how you view yourself now and going forward. 

We tend to judge the future based on the present. If things are difficult now, we tend to think they will remain that way and life will always be difficult. The reality however, is that things change - life events change, and we change as well. The way something has been and is, is not necessarily the way it will be. 

During our formative years, most of the hours of most of our days are spent in school. In school, students are mostly assessed based on grades. Therefore, if a student does not produce what are judged to be good grades, it’s hard not to feel like a failure. How does an adult feel when working at a job in which he often comes up short and is reminded of that constantly? But the reality is that grades and academic success are not good indicators of the future. 

In the December 8, 2018 edition of the New York Times, there is an article from noted author and psychologist, Adam Grant entitled, “What Straight-A Students Get Wrong: If you always succeed in school, you’re not setting yourself up for success in life”. The name itself is poignant. 

There he makes the following point: “The evidence is clear: Academic excellence is not a strong predictor of career excellence. Across Industries, research shows that the correlation between grades and job performance is modest in the first year after college and trivial within a handful of years…

“Academic grades rarely assess qualities like creativity, leadership and teamwork skills, or social, emotional and political intelligence. Yes, straight-A students master cramming information and regurgitating it on exams. But career success is rarely about finding the right solution to a problem — it’s more about finding the right problem to solve…

“Getting straight A’s requires conformity. Having an influential career demands originality… Valedictorians aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries. They typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up.”

To be fair, many highly academic students develop strong study habits and commitment to doing their best. Those are valuable traits in life. On the flip side, students who don’t invest any effort in their school work create negative work habits that will likely negatively impact them in life. But either way, it’s not the grades that matter as much in life, as much it is the effort and commitment. A student who works hard and comes up short grade-wise is more set up for success than a straight-A student who didn’t need to invest effort to get there. 

More significantly, those who struggle but are persistent, become more understanding of the process and patience necessary to accomplish and, therefore, are better suited to follow through on their goals. 

During my early years working in chinuch, when I would speak about life lessons I had learned, I would preface by telling my students that I’m not too much older than they are. During recent years however, I realized that I am triple the age of some of my students. 

I graduated high school over 25 years ago. I can say with conviction that grades are not necessarily the predictor of success. I have friends who didn’t learn much in high school, to say the least, who are today great teachers of Torah, some of whom have been wonderful rebbeim for my own children. Other friends who had stellar grades and were excellent students did not live up to past expectations. 

I also have friends who did very well in school that have also become very successful in life. (This is all bearing in mind that the definition of success is relative and personal. I use the word success in the sense that they defied expectations based on their academic production.) 

So, graduate in the back, who felt unnoticed at graduation and unsuccessful in school, like every other graduate the road is open before you. Recognize your capabilities, respect your deficiencies, and learn to appreciate yourself. Don’t only stay within your comfort zone and don’t limit your future based on your past. Trust that Hashem has a plan for you and ask Him to help guide you to fulfill it. 

Mazal Tov and hatzlocho!