Sue Shellenbarger's Work & Family column at the Wall Street Journal today covered a fascinating topic: is the "Most Likely To Succeed" label a burden? For decades, graduating senior classes have voted on which classmate would be running the world at some unspecified future point. The people who win this award tend to be popular, smart and ambitious, which generally does bode well for one's performance in the labor market, according to Christy Lleras, a professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana, who's studied this topic. Shellenbarger cites Lleras's study, published in Social Science Research in 2008, finding that people who'd won this award earned 12% more than their peers 10 years later. A different survey by MemoryLane.com found that about 4 in 10 most-likely-to-succeed winners viewed the label as an inspiration.
On the other hand, about a third viewed it as a curse. Clearly not everyone who wins the most-likely-to-succeed label will have a stunning career. People may have mixed feelings about their careers in the first place, but when you add in the pressure that your classmates once expected you to achieve high school definitions of success, it can feel even worse.
I've been thinking of this in light of gifted students and their later career development. Many gifted students clearly feel a lot of pressure to succeed, much of it self-inflicted. When you're young, everything is possible -- you'll win the Nobel Prize in physics and the presidency, and publish best-sellers and perform piano on the stage of Carnegie Hall! Later on, not only do most of us have to specialize, many soon learn that success of the people-have-heard-of-you variety requires other skills beyond sheer genius. Persistence. Risk-taking. Long-term goal setting, etc. These are important skills too, but not necessarily ones we think of cultivating during the school years.
Anyway, I'm curious how people talk with their gifted kids about goals and career aspirations. Do you encourage total dreaming, or ever talk about the practical side as well?