Looking for Success in the Brightest Stars

The Wunderkind Club
Early stars are rare; those who don't flame out are more unusual still. What separates the grown-up wunderkind from the one-hit wonder?

By Lisa Birnbach, published January 6, 2015

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has made a cultural rallying cry in the last decade—the belief that hard work (and inevitable failure) is the key to success, rather than immutable traits such as intelligence. Dweck has found that people with a growth orientation are more likely to persevere, take risks, and have a healthy self-image, and that mind-sets are established early but are amenable to change with the right beliefs and adult encouragement. For a high achiever, a focus on skills that can be cultivated rather than on innate gifts and abilities may affect whether he or she craters under pressure.

Ultimately, those who succeed right from the start invoke a universal truth about success: Whatever one's age or prior experience, if you don't love the work that you're engaged in, you won't be able to enjoy your accomplishments in a real way.

Looking for Success in the Brightest Stars
by Thomas J. Auflick

What you will find in The Wunderkind Club article by Lisa Birnback is a search for the meaning of success through the lives of a few popular icons. When reading about the likes of Ron Howard, Brooke Shields, and Christopher Paolini, I see greatness and sustained success in a rare section of our society. I have to remind myself of the relevance of success to the likes of these special individuals and what success means in my own life. I must always remember that—to compare is to destroy. I am not in their world, but of their world.

My own fantasies of success and inadvertent idolatry of our popular culture tickles my curiosity about these individuals and how they have risen to such extravagant heights. As much as I want to intellectually digress from the rapture of our pop-culture icons, I have to acknowledge that I am a product of this culture and desire just a taste of this level of success.  

Our humanity connects us to the spectacular when distilling the message of success outside of the popular ranks. Could we be as great as those who have achieved such notoriety? There has to be a link that we share and traits that distinguish us even in the likes of greatness. Most notably, the Wunderkind article sites the work of Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck and her rationalization of success in terms of a formula—a combination of hard work and an acceptance of inevitable failure. This means that successful people carry exceptional work ethics and an understanding that failure is a part of a process of reaching ones’ goals.

Successful people tend to take more risks, have a healthy self-image, and perseverance. This reminds me of what Seattle Seahawks’ coach, Pete Carroll, reveals when he talks about the type of player the organization desires on their roster. He states that they look for players with “grit.” His players are determined, competitive and persevere. I think we can all gather encouragement knowing that one of the most successful NFL teams in the last few years was not created from players who were number one draft picks, but came from second and third round draft picks as well as undrafted players. I hear the word grit being used in education when defining successful students. Again, these individuals are not the most gifted students intellectually, but the ones who work hard to achieve their educational goals. Perhaps what we learn about success across all levels of culture is not a place, a level or static state, but a process. Success is a state of being in an infinite process of growth. 

The Wunderkind article tells us that to truly find meaning in what we do; we must find love in what we do. As a career counselor, I often shy away from telling my clients that in order to be content, successful and satisfied in their careers, they must find a career they love. For those who have a life that envelopes love with what they do for work, a special gift and lucky privilege are bestowed. Many of us in this lifetime will never have the honor of matching love with career. A great majority of us work to live and love, but in that reality lies your success. This is the seed of grit: your determination, will, desire and perseverance to live a life that incorporates love of something.

Author, journalist, and long distance swimmer Diana Nyad comes to mind as one who embodies this idea of success. In her goal to swim from Cuba to Florida she attempted five different times, and on her fifth try in 35 years at the age of 64, she completed this amazing long distance swim. The accomplishment of completing her goal is amazing, but I am just as impressed with her process that defines her success. If we can all apply just a little of this determination to what we do in any aspect of our lives, I am certain that the results will be amazing. 

Everyone can be a part of the Wunderkind Club. We can all find success if we begin to put into perspective our own process relative to ourselves—not beyond the world we already know. We all have the ability to work, grow and expand within our capacity. When we evolve in this way, we change our world. This process will be won by grit. Success drives forward a process of improvement: to be the best within your capacity.

When you find yourself in a process of success, chances are someone will take notice of the change. In this regard, we all derive from the same star dust that manufactured our universe. Whether we, as stars, shine as bright as those in the Wunderkind Club, we can all use the same tools to make them twinkle and shine. Even if the whole world doesn’t recognize your star shining in the infinite universe, someone will, maybe just you, and there lies your success as an honorary member of the Wunderkind Club.