What Is Success? K12 Teens Define Its True Meaning

Earlier this week, Learning Liftoff published an article about a study by the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, indicating that kids in 2015 place more value on achieving success than in acts of kindness, caring, and consideration for others.

“About 80 percent of the youth in our survey report their parents are more concerned about achievement or happiness than caring for others,” states the report—commissioned by the Making Caring Common Project. “Youth were three times more likely to agree than disagree with the following statement: ‘My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.’”

But what does success mean to students? Is it about making good grades, getting into a top college, landing a great job or becoming popular in school?

We posed that question to K12 student leaders. Here’s what they said when it came to defining success:

Tyler B., Student Council President at K12 International Academy (ICA)

Student Council 2015 Tyler picture

“My definition of success is when one reaches their daily set goals, whether large or small. As for gaining popularity, I am a genuine individual and that is not something I have ever given any thought to. I never place weight on what someone else thinks of me to determine my worth. I think all humans should be kind and considerate to all other humans in all aspects of life; however, I feel each individual is responsible for their success. Whether each individual allows outside forces to affect their own success is a choice they have to make every day.”

Mary-Kate B., Vice President of The Honor Society at Georgia Cyber Academy (GCA)


“My definition of success is when you are truly satisfied with your own life and achievements, and feel you have performed to the best of your abilities in all aspects. For some, success might be found in excelling in academics and extracurricular activities; for others, success might be found in their popularity and social media acclaim. Nowadays, it seems many people are focused on their own well-being and reputation more so than others—from simply cutting in line at the grocery store to backstabbing your closest friends. While it is important to care for your own happiness and prosperity, you can’t forget to treat others with kindness and consider their feelings and happiness first.”

Cayla, SO RAD Summer Camp Leader at Oregon Virtual Academy (ORVA)


“For me, success is the relentless pursuit of passion—embracing yourself, your vision, and every step that takes you closer to your dream. In a modern era of such intense technological and academic advancement, our worth seems to be weighed by what we do rather than how we do it. Maybe the most meaningful accomplishments are tucked into the littlest things: Staying after class to tutor a struggling student, being patient with a peer, building a relationship of respect with teachers. The student you invested in will always remember your kindness, long after the others forget your name.”

Laurel Barrette, MAE, K12’s director of student services and a member of the Students First Initiatives Team, understands that the definition of success varies from individual to individual.

“Determine your own definition of success,” Barrette suggests. “I don’t think anyone wants or needs someone to impose their own view. Consider removing external validations or markers of success to dig deeper and uncover a more meaningful definition.”

Success will undoubtedly present itself in multiple layers and at various times in life.

“I know indicators of financial success are an easy answer,” Barrette says. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to be able to take care of yourself and your family, and money sure does help with that. I think success is bigger and more complex though. . . . (To me) being kind, positively contributing to society—that’s really big. So, start by being a good friend, having an open mind and heart, a willingness to admit your mistakes and learn from them, a desire to grow, and a commitment to follow your curiosity wherever it leads you.”

K12’s mission statement, “To put students first and maximize their potential to learn and achieve,” is all about helping students discover their own measure of success, in the classroom, in the community, and in the future.

If you’re a student, how do you define success? If you’re a parent, how does your definition of success translate to what your student is going through? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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