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Success Does Not Come Easy

In September 1996, author Charles Sykes published his now famous list “Some rules kids won't learn in school” –targeted primarily at high school students—in The San Diego Union-Tribune. Later attributed to Bill Gates and Kurt Vonnegut, Sykes’ list is a popular read 18 years later because of its timeless wisdom. Similar to the core principles of The Northwood Idea, Sykes’ list reminds us success in life and work is the result of values like personal responsibility, ethics, and diligence among others. And they are expressed with the kind of “tough love” which is often absent in many of today’s teachings.

As we near the start of another fall semester, we might consider some of the key insights of those rules we are not likely to have learned in school, but certainly need to know if we are going to be successful in life and work:

  1. Life is not fair. Get used to it.
  2. The real world won't care as much about your self-esteem as much as your school does. It'll expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.
  3. Sorry, you won't make $40,000 a year right out of high school.
  4. If you think your teacher is tough, wait 'til you get a boss.
  5. Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping. They called it opportunity.
  6. It's not your parents' fault. If you screw up, you are responsible.
  7. Before you were born your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way paying your bills, cleaning up your room and listening to you tell them how idealistic you are. And by the way, before you save the rain forest from the blood-sucking parasites of your parents' generation, try delousing the closet in your bedroom.
  8. Your school may have done away with winners and losers. Life hasn't.
  9. Life is not divided into semesters, and you don't get summers off.
  10. Television is not real life. Your life is not a sitcom. Your problems will not all be solved in 30 minutes, minus time for commercials.
  11. Be nice to nerds. You may end up working for them.

Source: Charles J. Sykes, “Some rules kids won't learn in school,” San Diego Union Tribune (1996)

Have a great weekend.


Keith A. Pretty, J.D. President and CEO Northwood University 4000 Whiting Drive Midland, MI 48640 989.837.4203

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