“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” Albert Einstein – Success
Should we strive for success?
We often think of success in life as being tied up with the external rewards we get like money, fame or power. Life is viewed as a race to achieve these rewards. But, maybe we are running the wrong race. Maybe we should pursue more internal rewards, like being a good person and doing the right thing. Aligning our life to the pursuit of moral values may not give us riches and fame, but they will bring great value to the world.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts with Steph Sukow, a high school instructional coach and English teacher in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, for a conversation about success and value using the Teach Different 3-Step conversation method.
Image source: Pixabay
Dan Fouts 0:00
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here. We’re veteran educators who’ve created the Teach Different conversation podcast to inspire all of us to think deeper, listen with more intention, and understand each other better. If you’re a parent, educator, or anybody who wants to think in ways that build real understanding about what’s important in life, and help others do the same, then you’ve come to the perfect place. Welcome.
Well, welcome everybody to the Teach Different podcast. This week, we’re excited to have Steph Sukow here from the Chicagoland area to discuss a quote from Albert Einstein, who has showed up in a few of our other conversations. He has some amazing quotes about life. Tonight, we’re going to look at one on success, and it’s really powerful. I’m looking forward to that. To remind everybody on how this is going to go, we have the 3-step Teach Different method. We start with this great quote, then we’re going to talk about the claim of the quote, interpreting what Albert Einstein means using our personal experiences to animate our interpretation. Then, Steve will lead us into the counterclaim. Just when we think we have the quote understood, we twist our thinking to see it from a different perspective. This is where that critical thinking component of the method really comes in. It’s so important to have kids question their own thinking. It helps them resolve things, and not get locked into a certain way of looking at the world. We’ll end with an essential question. That’s the process. Our quote is about success, and I’ll read it twice. “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” Steph, welcome to the Teach Different podcast. What does Einstein mean? I’m putting you on the spot.
Steph Sukow 2:23 – Claim
Hi, Dan. Hi, Steve. Thanks for having me on. I love this quote because we often use the word success with students. I teach almost all seniors, with a few juniors. We’re always pushing them to achieve, to want to reach towards that next step in their lives, and to define what success means at seventeen years old. I think that’s such a big question. As adults, we’re still striving to understand what success means. The second part of the quote is what was resonating with me as I was thinking about this quote earlier today. Being of value is a quality that we can be in every walk of life, in every element, in every relationship that we have. While we might always be striving for that end goal, or that finish line, which is implicated in success, we can be of value along the way. I think that’s so important as we are teaching in 2021. After the year we had last year, it’s important to remind students that they have value where they are, even if they’re not quite meeting benchmarks, or if they’re not quite where they want to be personally in school, sports activities, or whatever. I think this is a really powerful, social, emotional thing we can be reminding our students about.
Steve Fouts 3:52
Steph, this is Steve. I like how you associated success with goals, and striving after the things that aren’t quite here and that we have to worry about. I had to look up the word value, because it’s such a powerful word and we think of it in different contexts, right? In this quote, it’s so powerful. I think it speaks to that intrinsic nature of people. Here’s the definition I found for value, the regard that something is held to deserve, the importance, worth, or usefulness of something. Something that is deserving, that has worth already. It’s not striving, it’s here. I like how you added in goals and striving for something, and how appreciating value is different than thinking about the future
Dan Fouts 5:01
That definition of value is very interesting. I read the quote, “strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value,” and I think Einstein is telling us something about success, that it’s not what it’s cracked up to be, whatever that means. There’s something better that we miss if we’re pursuing success. You mentioned benchmarks. I think that’s a fascinating way of looking at this quote. In school, kids meet certain benchmarks and they’re successful in class at getting an A, rather than focusing on doing the right thing. Are you becoming a good person as a result of what you’re doing in school? Not, are you hitting benchmarks, but are you becoming someone of good character. I think that’s such a great way to look at the world
Steph Sukow 6:15
Thinking about this last year and the impact of the loss of some of those day to day moments, like having a casual conversation with the person sitting next to us. I think there’s so much power in the small moments. That’s what is so exciting about this year. Students having those small conversations during passing periods, connecting with each other. I love seeing students look over to each other when I’m teaching a lesson to help each other out with finding something on the class homepage. Those small moments are powerful. They can lead to success. That’s wonderful, but success seems so finite or final to me. Teaching all seniors, the senioritis only gets worse by the day, but they always love to say I can’t wait to graduate, I can’t wait until I go to college. I can’t wait. But, when you say that you’re negating or you’re missing out on so many great experiences. That’s what being a value is all about.
Dan Fouts 7:26
What do you teach again, Steph? Did you mention that? I might have missed it.
Steph Sukow 7:33
I teach high school English and our dual credit speech class. Every once in a while, I get a class of juniors or a senior elective. Currently, I’m teaching a section of junior English, and we are reading one of my favorite books. We just finished The Great Gatsby, so we’re talking a lot about success and the American Dream right now.
Steve Fouts 7:54
I was going to add in the word present, Steph. I don’t know if you use that word or have heard it a lot. We strive to be present in our relationships with people, where you’re not looking beyond anything, you’re just there. I think that Einstein is talking about being present, because you have to be present to appreciate value. If you’re not thinking of the future, then you’re thinking of the now. I also thought of extrinsic and intrinsic, external and internal. Is success something measured externally? It doesn’t have to be, I guess. Value something measured internally as another way to understand it when you’re introducing it to students. How would students react to a quote like this?
Steph Sukow 9:01
I think success is such a buzzword. In society in general, we seem to highlight those extroverts. It’s all about being on the starting line of the football team, or in the play, or the lead of something. We look at that and say that’s the kind of thing I want to achieve or that’s the person I want to be. But, I think we forget about celebrating the ensemble. When we try to go it alone, we don’t get very far, but when we go together, it’s so powerful. I think initially the students would miss the secondary piece. I think they would say I want to be successful, or my mom or dad wants me to be successful. I think we have to pause to process the second part of the quote, and what it means.
Dan Fouts 10:02
I agree that there would be a pause processing the second part. The way I might spin it, Steph, is to have them link the second part, be a value, to being a good person. Maybe it’s a little bit hokey, but it might be something that they can connect with. What does it mean to be a good person, to make decisions and feel intrinsically like you’ve done the right thing? Then, have the kids share personal experiences about a time when they weren’t after success, but they did something they knew was right, and they got an intrinsic reward. Let’s say, they didn’t cheat on the test when their friends did. They felt like they made the right choice. Do you think that might be a good way to tackle this?
Steph Sukow 11:03
With my speech students, we talk about the power of words, and how a single word can build up or tear down a person’s whole day. Making a joke when passing someone in the hallway and thinking you’re being funny can have that snowball effect. It can hinder a person, or really build them up. In my classroom, we talk about those verbal and nonverbal ways that we can lift up the people around us. I think that’s probably the avenue that I would go with. I like to start my class, especially my speech class, having the students look into the eyes of the people sitting next to them, and ask, not just how’s it going, or how’s your day, but how’s your day really. They always laugh, and make fun of me a little bit, but those conversations that we can spark from that creates a positive classroom environment. This is what we, as teachers, are striving for, so that we can meet curricular goals, get to those summative assessments, and help everyone grow academically and socially.
Steve Fouts 12:16
Instead of obsessing about where we’re headed, it’s how we are doing. Now, we’re going to try to disagree with the quote. It’s always a challenge when you agree with the quote, right? Steph, do you have a sense of a counterclaim? What’s another way to look at the quote that is good advice as well?
Steph Sukow 12:45 – Counterclaim
We’re doing informative speaking right now, and we’re about to jump into persuasion and all things ethos, pathos, and logos. This quote is hitting in a really good way with where I’m at in the semester. When we think about going back to what our students would look at initially, it’s that word success, and getting stuck on what society, parents, and school expects of them. When you think about expectations, students’ feel like they have to be in twelve different clubs and activities, and like they have to have this robust resume. I think they might say that it’s more important to achieve than it is for me to stop and take five minutes to have an everyday conversation with someone. They might say, looking at my time and where I’m at, I need to achieve, achieve, achieve.
Dan Fouts 13:48
It’s hard to elaborate on that. That’s great. That’s almost exactly how I was looking at it, too. You can’t be in an institution like a school and then go into society and not meet expectations of that society or school. You have to play the game at a certain level. If you don’t play the game and strive after certain measurable benchmarks of success, then you might not get where you want to be in life. That’s important for understanding what you need to do to be successful. To push, even more, against Albert Einstein. To be a value sounds good, but what do I really get out of it? If I don’t get rewards from other people, or if I’m not acknowledged by other people as having done the right thing, or served others as you suggested, then is it really worth it? I’d rather go after successes and have society look at me and say, this person is a good person. Look what Dave achieved. I’m trying to be a high schooler going against this quote right now.
Steve Fouts 15:09
How would either of you react to a student who said, I want to be a value, that’s why I want to be successful? When I’m successful, people will look up to me. I can be a role model. That’s my value. I can provide value to people by showing that I made it, that I accomplished something.
Steph Sukow 15:38
Steve, I like how you’re highlighting that they’re not mutually exclusive. I can definitely agree with that, too. You can be the chair of the dance marathon, or in a leadership position and still add value. I think the question we need to make sure we’re asking our students is, it’s not about where you get, but how you’re getting there, and what was the journey along the way? You can get to the same destination, but did you take time to care about people? Did you take time to ensure that you were making the environment around you better? Or, did you have to lie, cheat, and steal to get to that endpoint? What did you do along the way?
Steve Fouts 16:36
I love how you said that.
Steph Sukow 16:40
To that point, Steve, I would challenge my students to continue to think. Just because they’ve achieved that goal, or they were successful in their sport this season, success doesn’t end, and adding value doesn’t end. You have to continue to look forward to see how you’re going to continue to grow and contribute in different ways.
Steve Fouts 17:04
Go ahead, Dan.
Dan Fouts 17:07
Steve and I studied philosophy in college. This reminds me of something that Immanuel Kant said. He was really big on ethics and doing the right thing. He said that “the purpose of life is to make yourself worthy of happiness.” I’m bringing in the Einstein quote here, act in ways that you are a value, that will make you worthy of a happy life, and success will come from that. They can happen at the same time. They can be combined.
Steve Fouts 17:53
I would ask students, if they were dragging their feet on the counterclaim, does anybody here want to be successful? Or better yet, ask who in here doesn’t want to be successful? Who’s happy the way they are?
Dan Fouts 18:12
I think with a younger crowd, we have to spend more time with the words success and value. The high school crowd can handle that better. I don’t know what you both think about that.
Steve Fouts 18:26
I think value is profound. I think you need to circle value for adults in a conversation like this. Get some definitions up. Steph, when you use this method in class, a good way to start is to circle words in the quote and discuss the words. Don’t launch into the claim or the counterclaim until you get those definitions out. I just think success and value would be great words to circle. I don’t know if you feel the same way. Would that be productive at the beginning?
Steph Sukow 19:08
Sure. Currently, my juniors are trying to define the American dream, and if the American Dream is even possible. I just love teaching Gatsby. It’s 100 years old, and yet students still see the connections. They see that the successful characters are really awful, and do some pretty terrible things. Looking at those words while using a rich text like Gatsby, or even something contemporary, can be powerful. We’re reading The Hate you Give next, which is a completely different era, but raises some really powerful and important topics that are being discussed in our society today. I think they’d have so much to share and so much to say.
Dan Fouts 20:12
Very much so. What does it mean to be a value versus being successful? I don’t think kids think about these things, Steph. They won’t until you put this quote to them. In the context of The Great Gatsby, this is a conversation you can have before the Great Gatsby, to animate the entire novel. They could write about it, or you could have a conversation about it after the novel is over. It would be so rich.
Steve Fouts 20:54
I think a lot of students will like taking some pressure off and taking a break from striving for success. They would feel good knowing that someone like Albert Einstein is telling them to just settle down, calm down, you’re okay. There’s another way to think about how you should be living. I think it would bring out what some students already feel, but may not have articulated. I think that’s a great value of this quote.
Dan Fouts 21:34 – Essential Question
Yeah, I agree. I think there are a lot of kids who are really stressed out, feeling a lot of pressure or a lot of expectations. It’s really important to give them permission to see the world in a different way.
I think we gave good treatment to the claim and the counterclaim. I felt like, as a group, we were starting to agree with Einstein, which is great, but then we pushed back in an appropriate way and saw a lot of the complexity behind this. I really think that this is an important quote for young people, and for adults. We always need to be revisiting these themes for ourselves, as well. We like to end with an essential question, Steph, that we prepare. In a really good conversation, I don’t have to tell you this as an English teacher, the kids will come up with the very best questions of them all, so you always have to listen for those. Playing on this idea of success, should we strive for success? This could be a reflective activity, an exit slip, or however you want to ask the kids after the conversation is over.
Steph, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciated your perspective. It’s great that you’re thinking of using this quote with The Great Gatsby and some of the other pieces of literature that you teach. It was great to have you with us tonight.
Steph Sukow 23:26
Thanks for having me. It was nice to talk to you beyond Twitter and get to see all the great things that you’re doing with this process.
Dan Fouts 23:35
Do you want to pitch the English social studies chat?
Steph Sukow 23:41
Absolutely. I lead an English social studies chat #engsschat on the last Monday of every month. Any discipline is welcome. We try to talk about literacy, communication, media, and all things that are applicable to English, humanities, and social science. Everybody is welcome. If you ever want to hang out on that chat, feel free to check us out at #engsschat on Mondays at 6pm central time, the last Monday of the month.
Dan Fouts 24:16
I think October 25 is the next one.
Steph Sukow 24:20
Steve Fouts 24:22
It was nice to meet you, Stephanie.
Steph Sukow 24:25
It was nice to meet you, too. Have a really great day.
Dan Fouts 24:27
All right, you too. Thank you so much.
Steph Sukow 24:29
Dan Fouts 24:31
Thanks, everybody. We hope you’re walking away feeling energized by some great ideas, and are confident conversations like this are possible. With just a little bit of planning and a 3-step method. Make sure you go to teachdifferent.com to learn more, and check out our library of conversation plans, where we’ve compiled dozens of quotes that you can use immediately with your kids. Good luck and don’t forget to teach different with conversations to make a difference every day.