What is Success?

What is Success?

Here is a question that is often asked, but rarely answered satisfyingly. Is success a high GPA leading to a high salary? Is there room for a broader definition, one that includes academic excellence but extends to how we form meaningful relationships, engage in purposeful work, develop self-awareness and happiness? There is much more to say on this topic, but few people say it better, or with a stronger base in experience and data, than Dr. Madeline Levine, best-selling author and arguably the most influential adolescent psychologist in the US today. We were delighted to co-host an event, together with the Friends School, featuring Dr. Levine last week. Here is how she defines success:

While we all hope that our children will do well in school, we hope with even greater fervor that they will do well in life.
Our job is to help them know and appreciate themselves deeply, to be resilient in the face of adversity, to approach the world with zest, to find work that is satisfying, friends and spouses who are loving and loyal, and to hold a deep belief that they have something meaningful to contribute to the world. 

We couldn't have said it better. 

Dr. Levine's talk began with a sobering look at the results of our current education system, in which 25% of teens have a clinically diagnosable anxiety or depression disorder, a rate which is increasing quickly and which she feels is far above a healthy norm.  

From her research and her practice as a psychologist in the Bay Area, she pointed to several underlying problems: first to over-parenting, which reduces kids' autonomy, purpose, and curiosity. Then, to schools which are developmentally out of sync, treating children like toddlers and teens like children, and creating huge pressure around a narrow definition of success. What's needed, she described, are schools with more "voice and choice" for students, a focus on project-based learning and real-world experiences that build complex thinking and problem-solving, and a deep appreciation for "soft skills." She referenced recent research that social-emotional skills, far from being a "nice to have," are now seen as the best predictor of success across multiple variables, including well-being, academic success, and work success. 

We're honored to be supported by Dr. Levine, as an Advisory Board member for Millennium, and as we like to say, our "fairy godmother," who introduced Millennium co-founders Jeff Snipes and Chris Balme to consider designing a school together. We are grateful for that insight and for her ongoing support to the education field and to our school, as we work to build a more humane and healthy learning environment. 

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