Today I had a friend tell me that her son had stopped trying- stopped doing anything but existing in the classroom, really- and I asked why. This kid was an intelligent kid when I knew him; he had wanted to go places like NYU and Wake Forest and had even been eyeing the Ivies when he was a freshman, and it made no sense, this drop in ambition. She told me that he knew he was smart and that he abhorred what she referred to as “the system.” She said that he said he didn’t need to prove through tests and numbers that he was intelligent. That he purposefully didn’t try hard because playing into “the system” is what “they” wanted. He was doing everything possible, it seemed, to not conform. To fight a system that he perceived existed.
I wish I could tell him how wrong he is. That to be successful it becomes necessary to cater to that system. It becomes necessary to prove your intelligence. Because being smart doesn’t entitle you to success. That’s not “the system.” The System is showing the world that you care enough about yourself and the future to take opportunities and utilize them to your advantage and to the advantage of others. That you care enough to take your intelligence and mold it, prepare it for a greater purpose, use it for a greater good.
Most anyone can be intelligent. Not anyone can be successful. In this world, you are not entitled to success. You must become worthy of it by proving to everyone else out there competing for the same thing that you are worthy and deserve it. Success, here, is not limited to making money or garnering reknown. Success is having the ability to affect change. Utilizing your abilities in a manner that shows the world you are capable of making a difference. I want to tell this kid not to waste his potential, not to deny the world of the services he can offer.
The world we live in is an accumulation of the contributions we make to it during our earthly tenure. These contributions can be large, or they can be small; we have the chance to define this early on in our life, or we have the chance to reflect and regret as we leave our life. It saddens me that he has chosen to define his contribution so steadfastly, so young. The system that he so abhors is enabled by that which it enables; it is the system that will allow him to get to where he could be- or, on the contrary, where he will end up. It is the system that has allowed me to be where I am today. And while my school is as far from NYU and the Ivies as the earth is from the sun (93 million miles, to be exact), there are opportunities if you choose to seize them. It is not “playing the system” with a negative connotation attached. It is, rather, using the available opportunities to enable and define the change you wish to see in the world.