Our parents and teachers often give us advices laced with good intentions but those advices may understate the complexity of the real world. I was taught at an early age we can achieve anything if we work hard and people who don’t succeed often have themselves to blame. I took this advice to heart because I reasoned my parents and teachers have lived far longer than me and they have the luxury of life experiences I lack so they must know what they are talking about. But sometimes the best life lessons come from the most unexpected places and not necessarily under the ideal conditions. Watching the evolution of my best friend Adam from being a high performer to a struggling student made me realize maybe our lives are not always shaped by the circumstances within our control.
I and Adam had quite similar academic accomplishments in the beginning. In fact, my friendship with Adam started due to similar academic interests as high school students. We had quite similar favorite courses though we were both good students and did well in almost every course. We also spent lot of time together after school. It was not uncommon for us to visit each other to play video games and talk about movies, music, sports, and other interests. My parents also saw our friendship in positive light because we both did well in academics and had found a way to balance our academic obligations with other interests. Things went as usual for about two years until I started noticing gradual changes in Adam. He started missing classes, his academic performance declined, and he also withdrew from many of our shared activities. I tried to ask him about but he would always find a way to deflect my questions. I also made the mistake of judging him prematurely as young people do. I assumed Adam had simply lost focus of his goals and gave in to the distractions of high school life because I would see him hang out with other students that smoked and engaged in other risky activities such as street racing. It is embarrassing to admit but I also had elevated sense of self that I had remained focus on the big picture and didn’t lose my way like Adam.
Adam’s academic performance did not decline because he did not want to study, but because his family problems made it difficult for him to focus on studies. Adam left the high school not long after. There are always ways to find answers if there is a will. I found out from his other friends later that his father had divorced his mother for a younger woman and was giving very little financial support to his original family. I knew from personal experiences how much Adam loved his family and how much he wanted to make them proud through his personal accomplishments. It was clear Adam didn’t lose focus but was the victim of circumstances outside his control. If I were in his place, I might have taken the same path because it is hard to focus on studies and hard to stay motivated if the most precious thing to you in the world, i.e. family, is gone. Moreover, the financial problems also weighed heavily on Adam whether he would be able to go to college without putting undue financial burden on his family.
Adam’s academic performance eventually improved as things got better at home. The court had arranged for reasonable financial support from his dad and his mom had found a new love. Things were far from perfect but Adam was mature enough to understand life rarely proceeds like a fairy tale. He had regained his lost mojo and was doing well at his new high school. I could also tell he was once again motivated to succeed in life because he could not think of a better gift to his mom and a better revenge against his dad. Adam’s life was a clear proof our life is not always shaped by things within our control. It was the same Adam who was a brilliant student in the past, it was the same Adam who started struggling in academics, and it was the same Adam who was once again doing well in school. The things that changed were the circumstances surrounding Adam. Being a personal witness to Adam’s evolution over the years also changed the way I started viewing other people, some of whom I personally knew and some of whom were strangers I either encountered on a regular basis or heard about them indirectly. I made it a vow to myself to never rush to judgment because we never know the circumstances that might have influenced or shaped the other person.
I am convinced most people are good and desire to lead a productive life. Some succeed and some do not but those who fail do not always fail because they lacked the good intentions or the desire to work hard. Life gives different experiences to different people so we should be grateful if life has been good to us and be empathetic towards those who have not been so lucky. I also take more humble view of my accomplishments now. While I am, indeed, proud of my life choices, I also acknowledge I have been lucky in lot of ways that many other people are not. It is now one of the major goals in my life to help improve the world for everyone.