Common sense in our Dearborn community dictates the following: if you want to be successful in this world, become a doctor. If you can’t, a lawyer or pharmacist will suffice. We’ll pass a few engineers just for good measure. If all else fails, be a teacher.
It is concerning–if not outrageous–that an entire community’s sense of accomplishment boils down to these narrow, shallow, and utterly invalid standards of success. Setting such guidelines for our blooming youth is like narrowing down the scope of their entire respiratory system to sucking air through a straw.
This funneling approach to success is devastating. It is also simply wrong. It contradicts everything we know about how success is measured and achieved.
We know, for instance, that successful communities thrive not by NARROWING their classifications of success, but by EXPANDING them.
We know that individuals who strive for their own expectations regularly outperform those who pursue the expectations of others.
We know that what drives the best and brightest is passion and perseverance, not social pressure and public disgrace.
We know that those who pursue what they’re best at average higher incomes.
In short, the greatest minds of success research, from Ferriss to Gladwell to Duckworth and beyond, confirm that the most successful people are those who push themselves and pursue their talents and passions.
Hundreds of high-paying career tracks remain untapped in this community, yet our collective common sense takes each of these gifted local geniuses and tells them that they have nothing to offer.
But siphoning our community’s potential through the two channels of “medicine” and “law” is crippling and unwise.
We know that funneling is fundamentally at odds with modern studies about intelligence. Dr. Howard Gardner’s research on “multiple intelligences” found that our traditional measures of success–IQ and academics–are limited. The span of human capability is greater than we previously assumed.
Yes, those who can detect patterns in language and numbers are intelligent. But so are those who can run a mile in under four minutes, kick a field goal from thirty yards away, play the piano, discern a C-note from a G-note, match colors and textures, bench-press double their body weight, sing both contralto and soprano, navigate their way home without directions, speak multiple languages, assemble a computer, and memorize a speech after just one hearing.
Don’t tell THEM to become doctors.
Don’t tell Nisreen*–a sophomore at Fordson High School–to become a doctor. At just fifteen years of age, she is already a competitive cheerleader, dancer, and varsity athlete.
Let her do THAT instead.
Zaman is also fifteen. He invents things. He creates robots, weapons, and electronics out of piles of metal and wire in his home basement. He carves maps out of blocks of wood. Don’t tell HIM to become a doctor either.
Ahmed digitally remixes Japanese theme songs. Ali can turn a page upside-down and, writing backwards, compose an intelligible paragraph. Lama and Lisa have the next great American novel flowing through their veins. Mahmoud can develop tens of puns per minute on the spot based on objects lying around the room. Adnan is formulating algorithms that will mathematically calculate the greatest athletes of all time. Jenna is digitally reconstructing Fordson High School on her laptop, to scale. Maya is designing her own fashion line. And Ismail, if left to his own devices, will direct and produce the next great show on Adult Swim.
If we are to assume any sort of community success, then we must confront this local “Status Fetish” that plagues our minds and houses.
In this land of opportunity, in this century of infinite possibility, there are literally thousands of ways to make a decent wage doing what you’re good at and what you love. Hundreds of high-paying career tracks remain untapped in this community, yet our collective common sense takes each of these gifted local geniuses and tells them that they have nothing to offer. Rather than nurturing these future-builders, it shuffles them into swamps of normalcy and mediocrity. It dismisses their brilliance as “hobbies” and “wastes of time.” It presses them to explain how they can “make money” out of their life passions.
There is a heavy cost to this. If some of our youth should pursue medicine and law, we cannot conversely shove our painters, pianists, authors, athletes, comedians, and musicians into white coats and courtrooms. This approach is misguided at best. At worst, it is catastrophic. If we are to assume any sort of community success, then we must confront this local “Status Fetish” that plagues our minds and houses. We must change our common sense to favor individual talent, not stifle it.
So as our youth grow and approach the thousands of roads diverged in the yellow wood, let’s encourage them to take the ones less traveled by. That will make all the difference.
*Student names throughout the article have been changed.