Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Predicting Success

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 3, 2014

Hard work, intelligence, creativity, motivation, qualities that many people associate with success. Of course, the first point is to define success. If, for the moment, we assume this means establishing financial independence, contributing to society and having loving and meaningful relationships. Luck is certainly a factor, but chance favors the prepared mind, and so as I work with many young adults, I begin to see the differences in life vision, determination and the pressure, whether internal or external, or both, to be on a “course” towards stability. These factors seem to create a stew, which, makes academic success, just one potential ingredient towards a “good life”. Wyatt, twenty, comes to mind. He was a poor student in high school. He went to community college, and then transferred to a prestigious university. He wanted to be a writer, but he realized that financially that would be challenging, so he has switched gears and now he wants to be a physical therapist. His friends were shocked at the transition, but he says “I know I can run a good business and help people, and I have always loved sports, so I think I will get a lot of satisfaction over helping people get over their injuries.” I was so moved by Wyatt, having known him since he was six and seeing report card after report card which says that he was not working to his potential. Now, after all these years, Wyatt seems to have, almost instantly, matured into a nice young man with a vision for his future which is both practical and, by his account, professionally satisfying. Could I have predicted that Wyatt would come to such a focused place in his life, by the age of 20? I am not sure, but I think so. Wyatt had his own way in which he wanted to be in his world. He played nicely and he had nice friends. He could have done well academically, but he never saw the point. His parents were concerned, but not hysterical. He loved sports, but he was not a stellar athlete. He was always calm, to the point, of not caring enough, but perhaps, in retrospect, his equanimity was due to his inner confidence that when things mattered, he would rise to the occasion. Wyatt has a bright future. With the benefit of hindsight, it was great that his parents did not pressure him to get good grades, because he has both self-esteem, and focus, traits which seemed to have grown from finding his own path. Wyatt has , what self-psychologists, call agency. He is running his own life, as opposed to trying to impress others. If others, such as myself, are impressed, he appreciates that, but that was not his goal. Wyatt reminds me why I am a child psychiatrist. I can hold the big picture in mind, so that Wyatt’s parents, can have perspective, when the teachers are concerned. This is an art, and not a science, and so I am not saying that I can look at a six-year-old and tell parents the future for their child, but at the same time, I  do have some ideas about that. Go Wyatt!

5 Responses to “Predicting Success”

  1. Shelly said

    It must be satisfying for you to work with people like Wyatt’s parents who over the years must have been frustrated with Wyatt. They knew of Wyatt’s potential and realized that he was not using it to the fullest. Finally, finally, there is the glimmer of hope that he will be happy in his chosen profession and can make a good living. However I am sure that not all children end up making satisfying choices like Wyatt. What is it you tell the parents of these kids?

    • Oh yes, it is very very satisfying. And yes, not all kids make good choices for themselves. Generally speaking, giving kids a graduated sense of control over their lives as they reach adulthood, and then pulling back and letting life’s consequences teach the person lessons is the best advice. In other words, helping a child have agency over their life is critical to good mental health. A child needs to learn from his own decisions, rather than following a path that is laid out for him. This authorship gives the child a sense of mastery over life’s challenges, and it combats rage and helplessness that can happen when parents are too controlling. Thanks.

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