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Home / Articles / Columnists / On the Bright Side /  The Secret to Success is Knowing There’s no Secret
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Friday, September 5,2014

The Secret to Success is Knowing There’s no Secret

By Jonna Shutowick. M.S. Ed.  
I was asked to speak to a group of undergraduates at the State University of New York at Geneseo (my alma mater) for their GOLD program’s “Pearls of Wisdom” series. The program prepares students for leadership roles in college and beyond through workshops and lectures. Preparing for this forced me to take a candid look at my own leadership style to garner what ‘pearls’ I could from my 26 year career that would speak to a young, hopeful audience at the beginning of theirs. This was challenging considering I haven’t done anything that I would consider speech worthy. I haven’t started a charity or volunteered for the Peace Corps; I’m not a CEO of a hightech company; I haven’t run for office or published a book (yet!) I teach. I parent. I continue to learn and grow. I chase my dreams. I work hard and play hard and try to “be the change I wish to see in the world”. But those sound more like refrigerator magnets than secrets to success. So, what’s my secret? Success, to me, means living a life that feels rewarding and carries us through to an end where we are not full of regret or yearning when it is over. But what that looks like exactly varies from person to person. There is no single secret to success. Though I completely empathize with the desire to learn one.

We all want answers. I’ll never forget calling home during my sophomore year in college distraught because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had received a notice that it was time to declare a major and I had no idea what I wanted to do. More inclined to hand out relationship advice than career advice, my mom handed the phone to my dad who said in a voice so calm it made me crazy, “I can’t tell you what to major in. Only you can decide what is right for you.” We went back and forth, me whining that “I know you can’t tell me, but I have no idea, so just tell my what you think.... please!” He wouldn’t budge. He asked pointed questions like, “What do you enjoy?” and “What classes have you found the most interesting?” But that wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted to know the secret recipe that was going to guarantee me 100% success toward an amazing job that would pay me tons of money so I could fulfill my dreams of living in a big city, where I would walk to work in my suit and sneakers carrying a briefcase full of very important work. What that work would look like, however, was anyone’s guess at that point. I remember feeling so pressured to make the right decision. Following my heart didn’t seem like enough at the time. I needed to know the secret to success, to which my wise father replied, “There is no secret. What is right for one person is not right for another. The only one who can make these decisions is you.”

What?! No secret? No answers? My dad forced me to take a leap of faith with his confident reassurance that I could always change my mind. And for that I will be forever grateful. Following my instincts, and when those are muddled, simply my heart, has been my modus operandi ever since. Despite the hours anguished over the decision to major in psychology, I am not a psychologist. The papers in my “briefcase” (okay, think big, overstuffed teacher bag) are student essays and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve learned it’s not the microdecisions that matter. If, on a macro level, your life is headed in a direction that feels fulfilling, you’re on the right path. The best kept secret to getting “there” is realizing that there is no secret other than faith in the process.


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