Dec 27, 2018 | 15 years later

I spent Christmas among family and friends quite as every time before. However, this time, I also had a few afterthoughts as there are some examples of common knowledge that stroke me really hard. You might hear some simple truths from your parents and teachers over and over again – or read about it from motivational books – but after all, you only learn how important they are when you see the consequences in real life. 

So, to the point. I stay in touch with quite a few people whom I first met either in high school or during studies – which is more or less 15 years ago. I consider these people friends, although I must say that there are a few different types – all the way from cordial friends to beer buddies. Since I was interested in maths from an early age, I used to surround myself with geeks of all kinds from the very start. Therefore, most of these people are gifted in some way, mostly in the domain of natural sciences. However, even though we are all at a similar age now (so that we had similar amount of time to study, try ourselves with new challenges and age), some of these friends managed to develop themselves, finish good studies, develop their own businesses, build good, deep relationships or even whole families, travel all around the world and keep perfectly healthy. While others did not get anywhere near that. 

And here is the finding: all the motivational speakers say about self-discipline is true; it is the real key to success. To make it even funnier, by eye-gazing, there is even a negative correlation between the level of personal success in high school and during studies, and a level of success ten years after studies: friends who entered adult life with a label of a genius, typically do not have any plan for life right now. The majority of them did not even graduate and those who did, managed neither creating their own business nor developing an academic career; they typically hold some so-so well paid specialistic jobs in startups and corporations, stick to their cubicles and do not have any long-term plans for professional development. When you ask them why their professional life went that way, they typically blame the education system and claim that no one spotted their talent, no one was mentoring them properly, or that they were not lucky enough. 

Not mentioning that their private life is a mess and their health is deteriorating. I have one friend who was always treated as a prodigy at home and at school. He never learned to do any house choirs including cooking, so ever since he moved to the capital for studies as an 18-year old, he was living on coffee, energy drinks, and fast food. And, he believed it was a cool, ‘hardcore’ lifestyle. Then, before he reached 30, he developed a heart arrhythmia and deep stomach problems which will last for the rest of his life. Given how physically weak he is now, I would consider him some form of an invalid person. 

At the same time, smart and disciplined people who were never considered geniuses were making micro-steps every day for the last 15 years, and now the effects are coming out. Even though at the beginning of their studies, they might have been struggling, they are now done with their educational training and they reached all their goals in the process. They are typically in perfect condition and still look like 18-year-olds, they either hold positions at best universities or consciously resigned from these jobs on behalf of high-class companies or their own startups. They are optimists and look 10-20 years ahead with planning their professional careers. 

I remember a lecture I was given a few years ago as a trainee for a young Master of Business Administration at the Warsaw School of Economics. The lecturer brought some memories from his own undergrad studies and said something along the lines: ‘A-graders who used to study with me, work for me and for other C-graders right now’. True that.

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