Success: Better Than Smart

Alan Meckler’s drive to succeed has never flagged. In grade school, he taught himself to read by poring over his father’s newspapers. In high school, he earned spots on multiple varsity teams, and at Columbia University he made the dean’s list. He went on to earn a doctorate in history before launching a prosperous career as an entrepreneur. Today, at 68, he’s the chairman and CEO of the Internet content consortium Mediabistro.

Not such an unusual trajectory for a successful executive, perhaps. But there’s a twist to Meckler’s story. Throughout his life, Meckler labored under a secret shame. He struggled to understand things that his peers grasped easily. His grade-school teachers wanted to hold him back. His father bluntly belittled him as “stupid.” Even after he’d been accepted into an Ivy League university, Meckler says, “I was very worried that I would be found out, that I really was stupid.”

His College Board scores were so low, in fact, that after he’d made the dean’s list, school psychologists asked to test him so they could figure out how he’d done it. But they were stumped. “They had me do puzzles,” he says, “and they said that I couldn’t solve problems that most 7- or 8-year-olds could.” College Board officials wanted to study him, too. “They seemed to think,” says Meckler, “that I was some kind of freak.”

The story appears in the September, 21013 issue of Success magazine. Read the rest here.

2 thoughts on “Success: Better Than Smart”

  1. “Those of us who are, unfortunately, natural-born marshmallow eaters can find getting a grip an impossibly daunting challenge.”

    “One study found that a child’s sense of self-efficacy at age 10 is more predictive of his future salary level as an adult than his reading score is.”

    Hi -–really enjoyed this piece. Just wanted to flag something which bothers me about the conclusions about the Marshmallow Test.

    It strikes me that these young children possess not so much some innate ability to be resistant but instead had a sense of trust that an adult would follow through with what they promised. No idea what a child that age would think or feel or how they would process this to make them either eat or not eat the treat, but it seems more likely that this grounding (in the first couple of years of life) and faith in people has more to do with future success (including the ‘grit’ and determination in the face of adversity you go on to examine) than something which is a trait in a genetic sense. Those who got on with stuff after redundancy maybe had hugely supportive families and perhaps had had marvelous childhoods, so had formed strong relationships with spouses and their own kids and didn’t have to see their work as their identity. You could I suppose then make some kind of speculation that those who go on to have fab careers despite weak tests scores have decent family backgrounds and those who end up in jail despite fab test scores don’t, irrespective of class. Anyway, I’m really enjoying read your stuff on your website. It’s got me thinking.

  2. Thanks, Maz, you make a great point. Indeed follow-up studies examined how children’s perception of the experimenters affected the results. They found that when the experimenters seemed shifty, the children were much more likely to eat the marshmallow. The upshot is that when the future is uncertain–as it is for many people living in poverty–it makes sense to take advantage of an immediate reward, because there’s no guarantee that the long-term reward will ever be forthcoming.

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