Success

Although I promised not to bore you with good memories, one recently came to me which I want to share so you’ll just have to bear with me. Or not, of course.

I was never a top student in class. Never ever. At some points I was mildly interested in being among the top, at other times I was more acutely interested, but I was never interested enough, or smart enough, to be among the top.

I have no idea whatsoever what precipitated this discussion, but one day the menahel was in our class speaking about intelligence, ability, and success, when he said something that has remained with me since then. He said that the smarter kids usually do poorer in high school than the less smart kids; here was something new, here was something counter-intuitive, here was something I couldn’t make sense of. How could the smart kids, the ones who always knew everything not do well in yeshiva? But even worse; how could the less-smart kids, the ones who didn’t know anything? The ones who sounded like Chananya Yom Tov Lipa Katznelenbogenstein do well in yeshiva? That was impossible.

The explanation he gave is the subject of a lengthy article in The Atlantic entitled “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators” the following paragraph sums it up “This teaches a very bad, very false lesson: that success in work mostly depends on natural talent. Unfortunately, when you are a professional writer, you are competing with all the other kids who were at the top of their English class. Your stuff may not—indeed, probably won’t—be the best anymore.”

The article identifies something else that my menahel missed though; that when someone gets used to easy success, they develop a mindset which says that talent is fixed, that you have your god-given ability and you can never improve on it, whereas when one has to work hard all the time they learn that they can do, and learn, things that were initially beyond their reach.

This lesson has gotten me through high school, through yeshiva and then through college, where I struggled mightily to keep up, but where I eventually graduated with a respectable GPA.

Thank you, menahel.

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