Tag Archives: education

How to be Successful

School just started again. You might not be aware of it unless you are a parent. I am quite aware of it. For me there is a sudden shift during the transitions between semesters. I also have a new class that I have not taught before–a freshman class.

Freshmen are an interesting lot. They have achieved success by graduating from high school where they were the acknowledged leaders, but now they are starting over, usually in a quite new environment where they have to learn to navigate again. They are trying to find their classes, buy their books, and get their new university email account working, while they reconstruct a social life. Many have come to college without any friends. While they will develop friends over time, some are lonely and isolated. It is a transition.

I am not sure that their first impression of me helped. In the first two class periods, I had to tell one student not to eat in my class and a few others to take hats off, remove headphones, or stop talking when class begins. Of course, I explained that this was not to be mean, but to prepare them for the realities of work. I am not sure that all of them understood the difference.

I haven’t taught freshman for seven or eight years, so it was a bit of a transition for me too. I primarily teach graduate students. Freshmen are different. They need a lot of guidance about the basics of success. Yesterday in class, I highlighted what they needed to do to be successful in college. This included:

  • A willingness to learn
  • Hard work
  • Honesty
  • Perseverance
  • Manners and people skills
  • Not being afraid to ask a question when you do not understand

A Willingness to Learn

I explained that a willingness to learn was the entire point of college. If they come here without opening their minds to that which is being taught, reactively arguing against what is being offered without expanding their range of understanding, even if they obtain a degree, they will not gain an education.

Hard work

Willingness to learn is necessary, but not a sufficient condition for success. They have to engage in the hard work of learning. Went they are exposed to new ideas, they must work to make the ideas their own. I reminded them of Edison’s quote that, “The reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is because it usually goes around wearing overalls looking like hard work.”

Over the next 4 years, they should spend 1800 hours in class, and another 5,400 hours reading and studying. Those that don’t put in the time, preferring to study as little as they can, cramming at the end, will shortchange themselves.


Students do not think of not studying as being dishonest, but it is. Even if they think that they are only harming themselves—engaging in a victimless crime—they are not. Employers expect that a degree represents something more than the minimum. When they hire a college graduate, they pay a premium over a high school graduate. They expect that the student has accumulated a certain level of knowledge, skills, and perseverance.

Freshman students’ initial attitudes about studying are the opposite of those espoused by the most successful in society. Warren Buffett, for example, explained, “Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three: qualities: Integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”[1]

Integrity is more than an absence of lying. It is the eradication of deceit. It is telling the whole truth. It is doing all that needs to be done. It means striving for excellence, not coasting. And this is important to establish now because the habits that they form here will impact the rest of their lives.


“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” This quote, falsely attributed to Calvin Coolidge, speaks volumes. It is a message that these students need to hear. They can’t win if they give up.

Manners and People Skills

In light of our experience, manners needed some attention. I elaborated on the importance of etiquette to their future success. Then I introduced my students to Peter Drucker, the father of modern management. Drucker wrote:

Manners are the lubricating oil of an organization. It’s a law of nature that two moving bodies in contact with each other create friction. This is as true for human beings as it is for inanimate objects. Manners–simple things, like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and knowing a person’s name or asking after her family—enable two people to work together whether they like each other or not. Bright people, especially bright young people, often do not understand this.[2]

Not Being Afraid to Ask When You Do Not Understand

This one was easy, because a student asked a clarifying question earlier and I used it as an opportunity to show the class how valuable his question was. He found it valuable. I found it valuable (as an opportunity to refine the answer), and I explained that if he had a question, it was likely that others had questions too. I thanked him for being willing to speak up because it also benefitted those who were too afraid to look like they did not know.

When we had finished, I asked if the students had any additional thoughts about our discussion. One young lady volunteered that these principles mirrored some of the ideas in the textbook. I was impressed by her observation and I explained that the same principles will serve her throughout life. It did not matter what vocations she chose. The same principles that we were discussing in our class are those that will help a businessman win more clients.


And that is the lesson. How well do you measure up in the basic principles that lead to success?

  • A willingness to learn
  • Hard work
  • Honesty
  • Perseverance
  • Manners and people skills
  • Not being afraid to ask a question when you do not understand

If any areas are lacking, what will you do to develop them?



[1] Buffett, W. (1998). Thoughts of Chairman Buffett: Thirty years of unconventional wisdom from the sage of Omaha. New York: HarperCollins.

[2] Drucker, P. F. (2017). Managing Oneself: The key to success. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.

-Darin Gerdes



Dr. Darin Gerdes is an Associate Professor of management in the School of Business at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on www.daringerdes.com are his own.


This post was originally created for Great Business Networking (GBN), a networking organization for business professionals where Dr. Gerdes is the Director of Education.



Filed under Effectiveness, Influence, Motivation, Success, Uncategorized