“What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
About a year ago, I read an article written by someone who was giving advice to her younger self. I found it interesting, as I am always interested in learning from my mistakes and the mistakes of others. I am very focused on success for young women in high school and I thought it might be interesting to find out what some of the most successful women would have done differently in high school. High school really is the springboard to future success and I am forever and always a proponent of hard work and high achievement.
I devised a questionnaire and asked 60 highly successful women what advice they would give to current high school girls yearning for great successes in their lives, as well. My list of successful women included those that had reached the pinnacle of success in their respective fields, such as a Supreme Court Justice, several Chief Executive Officers and Chief Financial Officers, Law and Medical Professors at the most elite colleges in the country, a University President, a Governor, several Senators, a championship winning athlete, an Academy Award winning actress and a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Although it took me about a year to contact and compile my responses from these women, I was pleasantly surprised at their willingness to communicate their experiences and advice with me. It was also interesting that many of these women shared similar responses. In my prior research studies, high school girls who successfully embraced this advice ended up at the most elite colleges in the country. There may not be a scientific correlation at this time, but it is an interesting outcome, nonetheless. I have published this in my other articles, which I encourage you to read.
The following are the top ten things these highly successful women would have done differently in high school and some advice they shared, ranked in order of the most responses:
1. Never Let Go Of Your Dreams And Dream Big– Your dreams become your inspiration to work harder and set goals for high achievement. These women related they purposely picked goals that were difficult to achieve, such as making partner in a prestigious law firm or becoming a tenured professor by the age of 35, becoming a Supreme Court Justice and running for the office of Governor and winning. Just because a state has never elected a female Governor before doesn’t mean it can’t happen. If you believe in yourself, you can make it happen. If you focus, work hard enough and stay away from the distractions in high school, anything is possible. Many of the women interviewed told me that high school, retrospectively, is a little part of a bigger picture and they focused on the long term, not the short term. They advised to stay away from the drama and negative peer pressure in high school and just follow your own unique path.
2. Learn To Say “No”– Don’t pretend to be something you are not; be yourself. You are not out to please the world and you shouldn’t do anything you are not comfortable doing. “No” is a very powerful word and the respondents alluded it will serve you well in the future if you learn this now. They also commented is it better to excel in a few areas than to spread yourself so thin you can’t excel at anything. They also reiterated that parents are usually right, so listen to them and don’t discount their advice and opinions because experience does matter.
3. Success And Money Really Are A Result Of Hard Work, Grit & Determination– Sorry to burst your bubble, but there really is no free ride or luck that takes you to the top. It is all about hard work, determination and dedication. These women kept themselves focused on the end result and worked longer hours and networked more than their peers. They were willing to take risks, work harder and pursue higher levels of education. An interesting point was all these women sacrificed something today for a greater return tomorrow. The respondents related their exceptionalism and their drive to keep achieving as drivers of their success.
4. Stay Away From People Who Tell You That You Can’t– The overwhelming advice on this point was not to let others judge you. It doesn’t matter what others think about you, it’s what you think of yourself that makes all the difference. It is this strong sense of self that will point you in the direction and the choices you will eventually have to make to determine your future endeavors. Keeping toxic people out of your life allows you to succeed and focus on accomplishing your goals. They also advised not to give up on something you are passionate about. Many told me they regretted quitting playing the piano or another musical instrument and cannot afford the time to learn it today. Time is precious and they advised sticking to a hobby or passion, as it will enrich your life at a later time.
5. Grudges Will Never Take You Anywhere, Let Them Go– It is important to understand that everyone has an opinion or belief that may differ from yours and should be the basis for discussion and learning, not resentment and avoidance. The capacity to forgive has produced great leaders, such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, who recognized that by forgiving people that hold you back, that have managed to hurt you, and forgiving yourself for the people whom you have hurt, you alleviate the toxicity that steals your energy, ambition and self-confidence. Essentially, it diminishes your leadership ability. Learn from the past and embrace the future.
6. Take Care Of Yourself Now– Studies keep coming out that show what we do when are younger may have dire consequences on us when we age. Now is the time to develop healthy lifestyle changes. Exercising and eating healthy, along with the determination not to smoke, take drugs or abuse alcohol, are all imperative for leading a longer, happier and more successful life. Get at least seven hours of sleep a night and try to avoid the drive through. The respondents said these bad habits will show up in your 30’s and 40’s and prevention is the key.
7. Be Curious And Take Risks– “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water”, is a famous quote by Rabindranath Tagore. Every reaction requires an action. You’ll never achieve your goals if you don’t take a chance. With every decision comes risk, but you only need to win more than not. The fact is you are not even in the game without taking the risk of stepping in. Take the road less traveled- these respondents said it made all the difference in their lives.
8. Failure Is Inevitable, But It Can Make You Stronger– One thing these women had in common is they were rejected from something they intensely wanted at least one time. Each one took it as a sign to work even harder and that’s what they attribute to their great success. Every one of your failures is laying out a path for your eventual success. Michael Jordan, who is regarded as the greatest basketball player in history, was cut from his varsity team numerous times and said, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” How do you really know what a success is if you have not experienced a failure? These women advised embracing the failure and working harder to get an even better outcome.
9. Study, Study and Study– Get off the video games and reality television and put the time into improving your grades. With all the social media out there, it is hard to not let it invade your life, but you must. The difference between a valedictorian and a salutatorian can typically come down to one grade in high school. Colleges love to boast about the number of valedictorians and often provide greater scholarships and admissions. Students who work hard and achieve in high school learn to develop high expectations and demand stellar outcomes from themselves, which, in turn, become life-long traits. As Socrates said so eloquently, “Wisdom begins in Wonder”, so start contemplating and studying.
10. Get Into The College You Really Want To Attend– According to Vanderbilt economics and law professor Joni Hersch, who has researched and published on this subject, students who attend low-tier undergraduate institutions seldom transition to top-tier graduate schools. Even more daunting is those who do, rarely achieve the earnings power of peers who attended elite colleges. Women have it much tougher- A lower tier college graduate who attended a higher tier law school, as an example, earns only about 60 percent of the salary of a lawyer with a bachelor’s degree from an elite level college. Christopher Avery, a professor of public policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, has published and researched college as a mode of social mobility. Students who earn a degree from an elite college, even those with unremarkable grades and test scores, are handily too far ahead of those who don’t, which is why they will never catch up. The networks, resources and teaching at the elite schools typically cannot be rivaled by other colleges and set the path for success into motion. The most elite recruiters go to the most elite colleges. Recruiters often like to select candidates from the elite colleges they attended. The take away here is work hard and get into the best college you can. It will make a difference, according to the respondents and the research.
This was an interesting and thought provoking project for me personally. As a high school sophomore with two high achieving sisters currently attending elite colleges, I have seen firsthand how the right choices in high school can impact options for future success. I hope this list helps guide you to a life filled with opportunity.