A gem of a report in the Wall Street Journal, “‘Most Likely To Succeed’ Burden,” detailing the psychological impact the label can have on its recipients. For some it appears to have compounded internal pressure to achieve, for others it appears to have highlighted their priorities in way that has proved sobering and helpful. Either way, it’s an interesting comment on the power of judgment vis a vis achievement, or at least, our conflicted relationship with expectations, ht JD:
Charlene Dupray was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by her classmates at New Hanover High School in Wilmington, N.C., in 1990. That honor has been hanging over her ever since. Even though she went on to graduate from the University of Chicago, travel throughout southern Europe, the Middle East and the Caribbean as a cruise-line tour director and pull down a six-figure salary in executive recruiting, Ms. Dupray, now 38 years old, says, “I have been constantly evaluating my success and using that silly award as a benchmark.”
More high schools are eliminating senior-class polls, a long-standing tradition for graduating classes, in part out of concern for their effect on recipients. Research suggests most winners of the most-likely-to-succeed label will do well later in life, based on their academic ability, social skills and motivation. Less is known about the psychological impact. Some former winners of the title say what seemed like a nice vote of confidence from their classmates actually created a sense of pressure or self-doubt.
“Being noosed with ‘most likely to succeed’ is like lugging an albatross to every job interview, new relationship or writing endeavor,” says Blake Atwood, 30, of Irving, Texas, and a copywriter for a law firm. His 80 classmates at his Lorena, Texas, high school bestowed the label on him in 1998. Recalling these expectations just deepened his self-doubt during a six-year period after college when he wasn’t working in his chosen field, as a writer, he says.
Nearly one-third of those named “most likely” in high school regard it later as “a curse,” according to a recent poll of 1,369 members of MemoryLane.com, which links users to high-school classmates, yearbooks and nostalgic material. Some say the label makes them feel stuck with high-school definitions of success, which invariably involve rising to the top of a profession, making lots of money, or both.
Brandon Hogan, a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, says winning the most-likely designation at his Winter Haven, Fla., high school has fostered pressure “to make sure I live up to it,” long after his 1999 graduation. “I wanted in some way to be a leader for the people who were paying attention to me back home,” he says. That has sometimes been inspiring; such thoughts kept him from seriously considering dropping out of Harvard Law School a few years ago, he says. “It’s not that the pressure is going to get to me. But I’d like the story to end well,” says Mr. Hogan, now 29.
…about 4 in 10 most-likely-to-succeed winners regard the label as an inspiration, the MemoryLane.com survey shows.
Sakita Holley of New York City says being raised by her grandmother because her parents were absent fostered “frustration and negative energy” that she channeled into achievement. As a high-school senior in 2005, she urged classmates to vote her most likely to succeed. After she won, she had “success” tattooed on her back, changed her middle name to “success” on Facebook, and graduated with honors from Howard University. She named the public-relations company she founded in 2006 “House of Success.”…
In hindsight, [one winner] wishes today she had won a different label: “Most likely to be happy.”
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