Redefining Success: A Boy Named Will
Our society tends to have a very narrow minded view of success.
If children do not conform to arbitrary academic milestones, they may be considered “behind”, “lazy,” or a “problem." Although we all want our children to be “successful”, I think it might be time we redefine what that means.
To build my case, I have a true story about a boy who challenged the conventional wisdom of what it means to be a "success"…
Redefining Success: A Boy Named Will
A little over a century ago, there was a boy named Will. He was always on the go and he seemed like a very intelligent child, but often got into trouble with his teacher. Some people described him as distracted. “At times he was unaware of what was going on around him," one family member remembered. Even as he got older, his sister would often check him over to make sure his close matched. And, most disturbing to his teachers, instead of doing his assigned homework, he would often choose to work on projects of his own.
His father often traveled and would bring him home mechanical toys. Will and his brother would play with the toys until they broke. Then when the toys were broken, Will would figure out how they worked and build similar toys of his own!
By the time Will was in high school his teacher did not know what to do with him. On the one hand he was very intelligent; on the other hand, his “distracted” nature seemed to be getting worse. Will once remarked to his sister that he could see more vividly with his mind than his eyes. Will would often take a half day off of school to work on projects that he felt were more interesting than school. When his teacher complained about these absences to Will's father, he told her that these half days off are good for him, and that he'd be a better student because of them.
While playing hockey with some friends, his front teeth were knocked out, naturally making him incredibly self conscious. Around that same time, Will’s mother became very ill and Will decided to drop out of his senior year of high school to take care of her.
Shortly after Will dropped out, his younger, more impulsive bother (who also had problems with being distracted and focusing on his school work) also decided to quit his studies.
At this point, by society's standards, many people would say that Will was a failure. He did not perform within the boundaries dictated by the school, and, to make matters worse, he was a major influence on his younger brother dropping out of school. Given all this, it would be easy to label him a "problem" - but look closer.
Will possessed many positive characteristics! He was active, inquisitive, enjoyed building things with his hands. He was intelligent, even though he did not do what the teachers wanted in school, and he was compassionate - when he dropped out of school, he really did take care of his dying mother!
Let's see what happens to Will next…
Being such an active young man, Will couldn't stay still for long. He and his brother started building printing presses and by the time Will was 21 years old, the pair of them were publishing 3 separate newspapers! They didn't stop there. Once their newspapers were established, they soon got sidetracked by the latest technology craze - bicycles! They started repairing and building them and soon had a successful bike shop.
Will (or as he is more famously known...Wilbur) then became interested in flight. He and his brother Orville designed a wind tunnel to test wing designs and eventually developed the first airplane.
Reflecting on Success
Society looks back now and says “Wilbur and Orville Wright were very successful,” but even up to the day they had their first flight, society looked down on them because they did not do things the way that they were “supposed to.”
Instead of defining our children’s success by solely focusing on school grades or external behaviors, we need to open our eyes and look at the whole child.
Are they compassionate, creative, hard working, musical, energetic, funny, artistic, or loving? What characteristics make them the unique and wonderful person they are? What can we, as adults in their lives, do to cultivate those talents and build up their self esteem?
There is a world beyond school, and we want our children to contribute to it.
Dr. Jeff M.D.
Photo Credit: Fleischer Steve
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