I was moved by a recent article in The Economist titled "The One Shot Society." The story was about South Korea's society, its educational system and the way in which one’s future is determined. South Koreans study 24/7 throughout their childhood preparing to take a single exam that will determine their fate (the university they attend, job they’ll be able to secure, etc.). The kicker is that this test is taken when the individual is just a teenager. In this culture, you have one shot, not many, to define your future and succeed.
Reading this story really made me stop in my steps and think about my own life and career. As someone who had slightly above average SAT and GMAT scores, I would have never have had the chance to succeed, had I been born into this society (I was admitted to Columbia Business School based on my story, not my scores).
Merit, accomplishment and entrepreneurial grit are discounted in Korea. High scores and their version of the "Ivy League" is the only route to success. While America certainly has its issues, I'm proud to regularly observe how hard work, creativity and entrepreneurial focus can bring great success.
New York City is a great example of this latter observation. Just last week I spoke with a young Pakistani man who was studying by day at a local college, while driving a limo at night to help pay the bills. As we spoke, he confided that his dream is to become an accountant and move to the Midwest.
His immigrant parents raised him to always work hard, pursue his passion and to take advantage of our entrepreneurial society. In our conversation it was clear that he is incredibly excited to pursue his dream, but also grateful for the opportunity to attend university in the U.S. I was struck by his positive outlook, work ethic and well thought out plan. And I'm clearly not the only one. Just recently, one of his clients from the limo service (impressed no doubt by his work ethic and aspirations) offered my new pal an accountancy job. Talk about America at its best!
There are many, many routes to success in this country. My hope is that our young people always remember this and that they always seek to take advantage of it at every opportunity.