As a kid, he was no Einstein

Kirjoittaja on New Yorkissa varttunut ja Helsingissä naisistunut copywriter.

Dear Mom,

Last weekend was graduation weekend here. For those who graduated with all As (here, all Ls), there’s reason to celebrate. Their futures are set. It’s just a matter of deciding which university to attend. Which academic dreams to pursue.

For those who graduated, but just barely, there’s “celebration”, but it’s more “Well, at least she managed to make it through.”

I went to a graduation party for a girl who barely made it out of high school last weekend. “It’s not that she’s stupid,” I heard someone say. “She’s just lazy and interested in everything but school.”

How terrible for her. I can only imagine how Bill Gates’ and Steve Jobs’ parents must have felt when their sons were too interested in anything but school to graduate. And God knows Walt Disney was a disappointment – he didn’t even make it through high school. And hey, as a kid, Albert was no Einstein either.

Most of us spend (i.e. waste) a huge amount of time and energy trying not to screw up in life. We’re taught at school not to make mistakes. To do anything but fail. But why? Aren’t we at school to learn? And doesn’t learning come with making mistakes?

As you know, I did go to college. And I got a Master’s degree in politics (heavy on the philosophy). Two sentences from the zillions of sentences I read during my eight years at university have always stuck with me: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Marcus Aurelius said that. He was a Roman Emperor, a philosopher and a very smart dude.

What Aurelius meant and Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Walt Disney and a whole slew of other “poor students” prove is this: Failure doesn’t define us. Our ability to learn from it does.

That’s a lesson even some of the brightest students fail to learn. And one that some of the biggest “failures” seem to know intuitively.

When asked about her post-high school plans, the girl whose graduation party I went to last weekend smiled brightly and said: “I’d love to be a lawyer, but my grades weren’t good enough to even take the entrance exam.” There was an awkward silence, forced smiles and a quick change of subject. But she didn’t really seem to notice. Or if she did, he didn’t seem to care.

Why? Because a little thing like that isn’t going to hold this girl back in life. Sure, it’s a bump in the road. But I have a feeling what stands in her way will become the way.

So to every kid who barely made it out of high school this spring, I say congratulations. I can’t wait to see what amazing things you’ll do.

Love, Lissu