Through my work with 15,000 students so far, I’ve begun to see what separates successful students from not-so-successful ones.
And I’m not just talking about academic performance. I’m talking about their overall development, and their willingness to learn and grow, even through disappointments.
The key doesn’t lie in successful students’ innate intelligence or talent. Instead, the foundation of their success lies in their beliefs — the truths they take to heart.
These are the eight most important truths that successful students both understand and embrace:
1. Life is challenging
Many students expect life to be relatively easy. They know that hard work is important, but they don’t believe they’ll need to work that hard to get what they want.
For example, I once gave a talk to an auditorium filled with 18-year-old students. At the end of the talk, a student came up to me and said, “Thank you for the talk, Daniel! I’m feeling inspired. I’d like to ask you: What can I do to ensure that I find a fulfilling career in the future?”
After telling him that I appreciated his enthusiasm, I recommended that he start by reading two books, Do What You Are and What Color is Your Parachute?.
In an instant, a puzzled look washed over his face. He said dejectedly, “Oh, but I don’t like reading. I won’t be able to make it through two books…”
This student wanted to find a fulfilling career that would last him a few decades, but he wasn’t willing to read two books. Somehow, he believed that building a rewarding career shouldn’t take too much effort.
Unfortunately, this mindset is prevalent among students.
Successful students, on the other hand, understand that life is tough, but that overcoming challenges makes life more meaningful.
2. You can’t always choose your circumstances, but you can always choose your attitude
We all like to think that we’re in control of our lives. But there are so many aspects of our lives that are beyond our control. Of course, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan ahead and make wise decisions.
Successful students realize that they can’t control what mood their teacher is in, or what the weather will be like, or how hard next week’s math test will be.
But they recognize that they can always choose their attitude, and how they respond to the circumstances they’re confronted with.
3. Your education is your responsibility, not your parents’
It seems like many parents today take more of an interest in their children’s academics than their children do.
I’ve met parents who sit right next to their children to ensure that their children complete their homework. These same parents develop a complete studying schedule for their children to follow, because their children have become over-reliant on them.
Just last week, I got to know a family where the father is planning to quit his job so he can monitor his 15-year-old son’s school work more closely.
I don’t doubt that these parents have good intentions. But whose education is it? Is it the parents’ or the children’s?
Successful students understand that their education is their responsibility.
Parents can help by not micromanaging their children. Instead, parents can set medium-term goals together with their children. Every two months or so, parents can give the school teacher a brief call to see how their children are progressing. If the children aren’t living up to their end of the bargain, then the parents can mete out appropriate consequences.
4. Life doesn’t revolve around you
Many students ask themselves, “What can my parents/family do for me?” instead of asking, “What can I do for my parents/family?”
In order for students to find long-term success, they must realize that they’re not the center of the universe.
It’s their social responsibility to show consideration for other people’s feelings and needs, especially those of their family members.
Only then can students begin to cultivate an attitude of service, where they focus on adding value to other people, instead of obsessing over their own desires.
5. Blaming others gets you nowhere
It’s easy for students (and adults too) to blame others. Do any of the following sound familiar?
- “The teacher is too boring. That’s why I didn’t do well on the test.”
- “My parents are too naggy. That’s why I’m always moody.”
- “The lesson wasn’t engaging. That’s why I couldn’t pay attention.”
These complaints may be valid. But taking full responsibility for your education and your life means that you don’t blame other people for how you’ve been feeling, or the disappointments you’ve been experiencing.
Instead, successful students continually ask themselves this vital question: “What is one thing I can do right now to make the situation better?”
This enables them to focus on what they can control, instead of what they can’t.
6. Managing yourself is more important than managing your time
Students today face more distractions than ever before.
Texting. YouTube. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Blogs. Online games. And the rest of the Internet.
Students must learn to manage their time and their priorities, but they must first learn to manage themselves.
They must acquire the skills of eliminating distractions, fighting off temptations, and finding intrinsic motivation.
If they don’t, they’ll almost surely succumb to the onslaught of entertainment options available to them 24/7.
7. You’re entitled to few things in life, if at all
80% of the students I work with have a strong sense of entitlement. They feel entitled to:
- Use their home computer any time they wish
- Own a smartphone
- Have a messy room, if they so choose
- Lead a comfortable life
They don’t grasp the fact that these aren’t entitlements; they’re privileges. And privileges aren’t given. They’re earned.
Successful students work hard to earn these privileges, knowing that they could lose these privileges if they’re not careful.
8. No one’s perfect, but there’s always room to improve
I’ve worked with a number of students who have unrealistic expectations of themselves, and who place an overwhelming pressure on themselves to perform.
These perfectionist tendencies (most common among those who are the first-born or who are an only child) can lead to serious psychological issues down the road, such as depression and suicidal thoughts.
So if you’re a parent reading this, don’t take it lightly if your child is a perfectionist.
But successful students realize that there’s no such thing as perfection.
They turn their attention away from achievements and the end result. Instead, they focus on improving and developing. They concentrate on the factors that are within their control: their effort and attitude.
Ironically, these students perform better by choosing not to focus on their performance.
The bottom line
If you want your children to become happy and successful, they must accept these eight truths. As parents, our role is to influence and inspire our children to understand these truths, and then live them out.
Is it an easy task? Definitely not.
But I’m convinced that it’s worth the effort. 🙂