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The Secret to Student Success: Arel Moodie (Transcript)

Arel Moodie at TEDxYouthClintonSquare

Full text of author Arel Moodie’s talk: The Secret to Student Success at TEDxYouth@ClintonSquare conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: The Secret to Student Success by Arel Moodie


So what if I told you you’ve been lied to your whole life?

What if I told you that what you’ve been told since you were a kid about what it takes to become successful is completely wrong?

What if I told you that you did not have to be so many of the things you thought you did?

Now you’ve been lied to, and just for clarity, you weren’t lied to by your teachers, by your parents, by the adults in your life because they hate you. You’ve been lied to because they were just misguided.

For example, what if I told you, you do not have to be smart to be successful? There are a bunch of really not smart people doing very well.

But, this is what we’re told ever since we’re younger. We want to be in the smart class, don’t we? Have you ever heard a teacher say something like this to maybe you or one of your classmates: “Wow, you finished your work really, really quickly. You must be really smart.”

Do you know what’s being said and implied in that statement? What’s being implied is if it takes you a long time to do something, then you are not smart.

So when we’re younger, if we come up to an obstacle, we don’t go, ‘Oh, this is awesome.’ We go, ‘well, I don’t want people to know I’m not smart.’

But as adults, we all know that anything worth doing takes a lot of time. But we keep saying, ‘you got to be smart.’

Now I will prove to you that being smart is not a precursor to success with this simple question.

How many of you know someone, you know someone who’s really, really smart, but they’re not doing anything productive with how smart they are? Does anyone know someone like that? All of us. So being smart, that can’t be what it is.

Oh, good news. You know what else you don’t need to be?

Talented. Talent- Completely overrated. We talk about talent. ‘Oh, you, you’re going to go so far. You have so many natural abilities. You’re so gifted.’ It doesn’t mean anything. And I’ll prove it to you at the same question I just asked you a few moments ago.

How many of you know someone, I want you to really think who is really, really talented. Maybe they’re amazing poet or musician or artist or whatever it is, but they’re not doing anything to the level they should with the natural talent that they have. Does anyone know someone like that?

So when somebody says, wait a minute, so we all know someone who is smart. We all know someone who’s talented that’s not doing anything.

So it can’t be smart, intelligence, talent, gifts. And by the way, it’s also not being born into the right family, being born rich or any of those things. It’s one thing that nobody can give to you. It’s the only thing you can give to yourself that makes the biggest difference. And that word is effort.

Effort is everything.

Whatever you’re not good at, with the right amount of effort, you become good at it.

Now, this whole concept was very fascinating to me because when I grew up in the projects in Brooklyn, New York, I was in the smart class in elementary school. I was in the top class and you know what, we all knew we were in the top class.

Oh and to make it even better, does anyone remember the days when you didn’t even have to study for a test and you got good grades?

I loved it and everyone kept telling me, “Arel, you’re so smart.” And I was like, ‘I am smart’ until I hit junior high. And then all of a sudden I became really dumb. The craziest thing happened.

I would be in class and the teachers will be talking and I’ll be like, you ever had that face where on the outside you look like you’re 100% paying attention, but on the inside you have no idea what’s been happening? I mastered that, but I couldn’t ask for help because I was the smart kid.

Because if I asked for help it would prove I didn’t grasp things quickly. So therefore I’m not smart.

Dr. John Medina and his work of brain rules, and Brain Rules for Vabies talks about when we connect our concept of who we are to innate abilities, we have no control over; we don’t become successful. But when we attach them to things like hard work and effort, we control those.

But I didn’t know that then.

So I did like what I thought was the right thing to do and I just shut my mouth. And then went on into high school and I just got way worse. I started failing and I was not a science person. Where my people, science, chemistry, biology, it’s just natural thing like I look at it and you just might as well be speaking a different language. Where people math, you just suck at math, like it’s just not going to be a good experience. Right. I got you. I was with that. Okay.

So for me, science was my hard subject and I failed. And I was told I wouldn’t be able to graduate on my science class. So now, I’m facing not being able to graduate, having no skills or talents that I could know of.

In fact, I played three sports in high school and sat on the bench on all three of them. So my professional athlete goals were out the window. I was in a tough environment. I witnessed people get murdered. I’ve been robbed, beat up, made fun of.  And I thought I have no future. What’s the point?

So when I was 16, I thought it’d be better to be dead than to be alive because what was the point?

So when I was 16 I went through the roof of my building, I stood on the roof and I looked down and I imagine what it feels like to not have to deal with the pain that I had inside of me. Because what was the point? Not smart, not talented.

Luckily I stepped back from the ledge that day because I heard this still voice inside of me and all they said was not yet. And this voice had to come from a being much greater than me because again, I’m not smart enough to think this on my own.

So with that thought of not yet, I went back into my room and was just depressed. And I am lucky to have people care about me. I have an amazing mother, awesome brother, fantastic father. And my father saw him and he said, get up, “we got to go for a ride.” I was like, ‘alright’. I jump in his car. He starts driving and he takes me to this beautiful neighborhood that I’d never seen before. It was only 15-20 minutes from our house.

And he says, “You see this house, you see these cars?” He said, “one day if you want it, you can have these things.” You know, because as a teenager we see success is the big house and the big car, right?

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