What is Success?

What is Success? A very good question asked of GSA Heads’ at a recent Heads’ Conference in Oxford.  For many people success is measured in relation to others, to be successful is to be wealthier than…, to be happier than…, to be higher in the League Tables than…, to be cleverer than…, to have more “likes” than…. and so it goes on.

This notion of success according to Michael Ramsden, International Director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, is damaging. Despite living in affluent times where scarcity is no longer an issue and people tend to buy what they want, when they want, it has not led to increasing happiness but instead increase to mental health issues, with mental stress now affecting 1 in 4 individuals. Ramsden argues that we should measure success in the true meaning of the word which translated means “to be”. A successful person is one who knows who they are and how they can exist in that state.

In order “to be” – we have to be forgiving of ourselves and of others. He feels that in today’s world we have a narrative that focuses too little on failure. People no longer feel able to talk openly about failure because of the judgement that may be attached. He argues that if we cannot discuss our failures then we cannot ask for our forgiveness, and therefore there is no hope for our redemption. Our solution – we bury our failure and it eats away at us.

All of us have the potential to do good, to do the right thing, to be admired but equally we all have the capacity to do wrong and we need a way to deal with failure if we are able to thrive. If schools do not openly talk about failure and make pupils understand that it is alright to fail, we are not allowing them to flourish.

We have a responsibility to the young pupils in our care when the pressure on them to be successful is ever growing and becoming ever more demanding. The Government’s recent move to the controversial Grade 9 at GCSE will place even more pressure on young people especially when it will be awarded to only 20% of those who achieved A*-A under the old system. Whilst it is right to have rigour, it is not right we make pupils ill in the process. As the President of the GSA said, achievement should not be at any cost and that failure is as an important learning experience as success.

As I reflect upon these words it reminded me of all the things I have failed at in the climb up the ladder to Headship. I have learned more from failing than I have from the triumphs of success and in learning about failing I have learned more about me. As the Greek philosophers said “Know thyself” – is this not the most important facet of understanding that we are trying to instil in the young people we teach today?

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