The Smart Fail

Posted June 15th, 2020 in Article

One day I met an old friend. He used to be a smart student on campus. His grades are always good. Graduated less than 4 years. Far compared to me who took five and a half years to complete college. In the last semester, I practically did not touch my thesis assignment because I set out on a humanitarian mission when Ambon was torn apart by horizontal conflicts. One semester before, I also almost never went to college. Because of my position as chairman of the student senate, I was actively involved in the 1998 reform movement. In the previous two semesters I was still immersed in a lot of campus activities while working to pay for college. My friend is not tempted by all these activities. He graduated from campus when I was in a lot of courses that had not yet been taken.

When asking each other about family and work, I was surprised. With his intelligence he should have a good career. At that time I was a manager at the biggest pharmaceutical company in Southeast Asia. With his intelligence, he should have already occupied a managerial position. Apparently my guess was wrong. He is still an ordinary staff; a position that hasn’t moved since he started working. I am still trying to find the answer, why is his intelligence not directly proportional to his success in career?

My friend is not alone. In Malaysia, there is a genius named Sufiah Yusof. At the age of 13, he had studied at Oxford. Oxford! Amazing is not it? Unfortunately, not finished college, Sufiah ran away from his dorm. Two weeks later he was found to be a waitress at an internet cafe in Bournemouth.

Literally returned to Oxford 2 years later after being given the opportunity to complete his studies. Unfortunately, he failed to finish college. At the age of 19, Sufiah married in England. Unfortunately her marriage only lasted 13 months. Tragically, he then advertises himself as a prostitute. Now he is rearranging his life from adversity.

I am still curious why intelligent people like my friend and Sufiah Yusof did not succeed in their lives. Finally, I found the results of Thomas J. Stanley’s research that mapped 100 factors that influence a person’s level of success. To get that result, Stanley examined 1,001 respondents, of whom there were 733 successful millionaires in America.

The result, intelligence (IQ) ranks only 21st. Studying at a reputable college or favorite school ranks 23. Even graduating with high grades only ranks 30th.

Then, what are the most important factors that influence success? Stanley found 10 factors: honesty, discipline, interpersonal skills, support from life partners, working harder than others, loving what was done, good & strong leadership, competitive spirit & personality, good life management, and the ability to sell ideas. I call it critical life skill.

Finally my curiosity was answered. Intelligence is not everything. Graduating from a favorite school with high grades is not a guarantee of success in your career. No wonder many of my friends who were mediocre in their careers remained outstanding at top companies. Their academic value is not special, but they have good critical life skills.

I am not saying that academic value is not important. Academic success is good. But without being accompanied by the critical life skills needed in the world of work, intelligence will not produce achievements in the workplace. Not just a matter of work, life is like that. Academic success without being accompanied by critical life skills only gives birth to geniuses who are alienated from life.

So let’s ask this question for ourselves as a reflection: how good is our critical life skill? Ask the same question for our children: how good is their critical life skill? How much do we pay attention to growing children’s critical life skills in care and education in our homes? END

This article is a written version of my training material entitled Move On: The Art of Achieving Success and a Happy Life, made into a series of writings to be enjoyed by more people.

Inspirasi Melintas Zaman (IMZ Consulting) is a social enterprise institution that helps profit and non-profit organizations in the fields of leadership, human resource development and community empowerment based on spiritual values.

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