On Success

We have all heard those success stories. Adora Svitak (most famously known for her speech at TED on youth empowerment),  Christopher Paolini (author of the Inheritance Cycle), or Jack Andraka, the boy who had invented an inexpensive way to detect pancreatic cancer. Teenagers, raising from obscurity to world-wide fame, and raised as the standards of human intelligence and the pioneers of the future, have become more and more well-known thanks to social media and the internet. So how do they do it? That’s the question on many people’s minds. While many quote their innate talent and genius, the role of chance, luck, and ambition is many times overlooked.

When it comes to luck and chance, it is to no surprise that many of these youth come from America, the land of opportunity, and more developed countries. Developed countries are generally more receptive to the potential of youth. In many cultures, youth are repressed due to the hierarchal structures of society, especially in many Asian cultures. Developed countries are many times more encouraging of different and innovative ways of thinking. Children do not control where they are born, and yet where they are born may mark the difference between success and mediocracy. Of course, there are exceptions, such as Malala Yousafzai. There are so many factors that come into play. Take Craig Kielburger, founder of Free the Children, which he had started when he was 12. If he had been born in a more impoverished nation, where access to the skills and resources needed to expand his cause are more limited, he may not have achieved as much success as he has now. It was due to luck, and chance, of even the simplest of facts, where one was born, that can determine success.

However, where luck departs them, is in marketing. What many cannot constitute for fame or wealth in their family, they make do with marketing. The phrase “fake it until you make it” holds true; although Christopher Paolini’s first book Eragon was self-published, he went and toured, presenting his book in different bookshops, schools, and libaries. While many teenagers can write books, whether or not they choose to publish them, he took the step that many take after their book has became famous before it became famous. By presenting an image of a “must-read” book and mass-marketing it nation-wide, his book was able to catch the eye of a major publishing company, and thus kick-start his career. Even the notion of a book written by say, an 8-year-old, as Adora Stivak’s Flying Fingers goes to show, has the eye-catching age of the author that can make a book popular. Jason Russell and the first fore-fathers of Invisible Children had started their organization by creating a documentary and showing it nation-wide. Before it had become famous, they had already started putting themselves in the mindset of fame and success.

But what all these “prodigious” people have in common is that they saw the potential within themselves, and fueled this potential with ambition. Talent without ambition results in very little. Ambition, whether it is with or without talent, can constitute success. Talent can be innate. Some dancers can have natural musicality, but talent can be cultivated, grown after years of training. When first you learn the basics of a foreign language, it may prove seemingly impossible. But the more you learn, the easier it becomes until you seem to have acquired a “talent” for that language, and that is true for all skills and fields. Ambition can lead people to foresake “free time” and weekends to hours of what others may see as work, meetings, and practicing and fine-tuning the skills needed for success.  

As Heraclitus said over 2,000 years ago, “big results require big ambitions.

So cheers, to ambition, and to youth.



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