How Do You Measure Achievement ?

How Do You Measure Achievement ?

I was at my old college for lunch on Saturday and met up with a few alumni, some older, some younger than me. At lunch the principal read out a letter from an old student, and it reminded me of two letters I received, as an undergraduate, from my tutor.

The first was at the end of my first-year exams and was clearly intended to be a kick up the butt. It included,

“your results …were disappointing…for someone of your ability…It seems that your outside activities were having more affect (sic) on your studies than was desirable…to achieve the type of result of which you are capable….will require consistent and dedicated work…the time to start is now.”

It was signed off with,

“enjoy your vacation”. 

The truth was I had peaked in my subject and more particularly in the maths required. Until “A”-level I had just “got it” as each level of the science was exposed. While my mother had hoped I would go into medicine, she accepted my path to university lay in Physics. Unfortunately, my mathematical ability was found wanting in my first year at university and never recovered.

I recognised that I would not go further than a first degree in Physics and settled to at least achieve that. I was then left with the question of what would my career be. Cutting a long story short, I decided to look at management, and in my third year was offered places on Unilever’s and Bank of America’s graduate management development programmes. I chose Bank of America and “financial services” on the simple basis that if that did not work, I would find it easier getting into “industry” than vice versa.

As I completed my degree, I received a second letter from the same tutor. This one was shorter and said that my degree was

“very comfortably in the Class II…(and)…given that you have decided to make a career outside Physics and the use you made of the other opportunities to enjoy life in Oxford, this was a very satisfactory performance...well done!”

I confess I appreciated the second letter more than the first.

I am now approaching retirement from financial services after almost 40 years and while I have never been a “big fish”, I have been involved in many interesting endeavours, worked with (and I hope helped) a number of great people and done a number of things I am very proud of. I also have an extended family and a marriage that is approaching its 33 anniversary. And I am not done yet, retirement from financial services does not mean garden, golf and slippers. I hope to be doing more useful and interesting things for a number of years yet.

There is a slogan I like that says, “I don’t get lost, I just reassess where I am going”. I think there has been a large element of that in my life. I have not lived by long term goals, never worked just for the money and always tried to keep my head up and eyes open as the road ahead becomes visible.

That said I cannot say that there have not been moments of self-doubt; have I underachieved? Should I have done better/different/more? Then I turn my view back to all the things I have achieved, many of which I could not have conceived of as a teenager and others I thought I was incapable of. The shy, rather introverted teenager has triumphed over adversity, survived a number of setbacks, successfully reinvented himself a number of times and supported friends and family as often has he could.

The key is, I think, that I feel no regret. That said I do wonder what that tutor of mine would write now if he could? I hope he would be as kind as he was back then.

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  • Chris Daumann

    The principal should know that education isn't getting good grades at college. They teach us things that we forget within a few years.

  • Jack Thomas

    Once you realise your worth you'd get far in life regardless of what people think about you.

  • Adam Silverwood

    Great message !

  • Rob Turner

    A lot of young people need to read this.

  • Emily Smith

    Got me thinking about my achievements.

  • Robert Homans

    A bit of inspiration for anyone reading

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Ian J Sutherland 

Business Change Expert

Ian J Sutherland is a highly skilled director with expertise in governance, partnerships and regulation and almost four decades of experience serving as a powerful catalyst for change for organisations of all sizes and sectors. He thrives on identifying areas for innovation and improvement, forming effective strategies to drive efficiency and create bottom-line results. He has a proven capacity to serve as a bridge between organisations and functions, creating unity and operational coherence. A personable and creative leader, with a unique insight and the ability to see the big picture and provide constructive challenge, he writes on many matters including the delivery of change in today's world and is an opportunistic photographer who seeks to capture images that interest him. He enjoys good beer, good company and good music - not necessarily in that order.

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