Elite Universities Are Breeding Grounds for Insecure Overachievers

End the cycle by building an A-team of friends

Peter Sims
Forge
Published in
5 min readNov 23, 2019

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Credit: David Madison/Getty Images

InIn college, I dreamed about getting into Stanford Business School. That seemed like the ticket to a successful and good life. Then, in 2002, when the then dean of admissions called to tell me I had been admitted, I hung up and cried — it felt like the culmination of years of schooling and hard work, stress, and determination.

If only true “success” were as simple as attaining big goals. Sadly, nearly 15 years after graduating, I’ve come to believe that institutions like Stanford Business School are breeding grounds for unfulfilled lives.

What astounded me at our 10th reunion was how many classmates expressed often feeling unfulfilled, lost, lonely, and very stressed. A few classmates had “made it” big in conventional MBA success terms: two co-founded an online real estate company that was acquired for over $3 billion, another was reportedly paid $100 million not to leave Google, while others made a lot of money as investors.

Yet, now in our early forties, only a handful of people out of this class of roughly 390 seem genuinely and fully fulfilled with their lives and careers. If a person can’t be happy as a Stanford Business School graduate living on an upper-middle-class income or more, it might be time for us to rethink our notions of “success.”

So, I’m teaching myself something my school never taught me.

Why we’re unhappy

Widespread cultural definitions of “success” — mostly centered around money — have almost no correlation to fulfillment and well-being.

We know from research like the legendary Grant Study, the 75-year study of well-being of 268 (male) Harvard classmates, that the most important factor to leading a healthy and fulfilled life is relationships. Similar findings come from the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience: nourish strong relationships. Make a positive difference and connect to a sense of purpose. Keep learning. Cultivate meaningful passions, interests, and experiences. Get enough sleep and exercise. Practice gratitude.

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Peter Sims
Forge
Writer for

Founder, Black Sheep (BLK SHP); Cofounder, Giving Tuesday; Author, LITTLE BETS & TRUE NORTH