You’ve heard the saying “it’s like finding a needle in a haystack.”  What that means is that something is difficult to find—like a small, silver sewing needle that has fallen into a large stack of hay or straw.  You could sift through for hours and still never find the needle.  But, what if you had help?  What if you had a metal detector or even a large electromagnet, like the ones used to lift cars in a junkyard?  Finding that needle with these types of tools would be much easier.

Finding success in life might seem like looking for a needle in a haystack.  Life is filled with choices—which path will you take?  Which choice makes the most sense for you?  You sift through everything that life throws at you, and you make decisions every day that can lead you closer to that success needle, or further from it.  You also have friends and peers who are making decisions every day that will lead to success or failure.  In fact, the national high school graduation rate in 2015 was 83%.  This means that 83% of those who should have graduated found the needle, while 17% did not.  Decisions made along the way led to success or failure for those students.  However, those who graduate from high school may not keep hold of that success needle.  Only about 60% of students who began working on a bachelor’s degree in 2008 finished the degree in six years.  Finding that success needle in a postsecondary institution is even more difficult than finding it at the high school level.

So, what are the tools that could make finding that needle easier?  What do you need to have to help you sift through all of the “hay” of life to obtain the success you desire?  Your electromagnet for life is having a vision, or plan, and maintaining focus on the plan.  Everyone who looks for the “success needle” has a vision of that needle, but the “hay” of life is often distracting and gets in the way of finding that needle.  The best tool for sifting through all of the hay and finding your success is to maintain focus on the needle.

So, what does your success needle look like?  Do you want to be a doctor, build naval vessels, or work for a non-profit charity?  Does your vision include a four-year college, a two-year college, or some type of apprentice work in the field? Those who have trouble reaching their dreams often get distracted because they try to fit their dream into someone else’s plan.  For example, some careers require a four-year degree, and some do not.  Think about what your success needle looks like and how you get to your needle—not someone else’s.

Once you have defined your idea of success, the key is to maintain focus on that vision.  You can decide where you are going, but if you don’t take action and do the things that are required for you to get there, you will never arrive.  Successful organizations have to plan for how they will achieve that success.  Setting the vision, or the broad idea of where you are going, is only the first step.  Achieving success also involves focusing on the goals and actions that it will take to achieve that vision.  Planning for success in life is no different.  You obtain success by having a laser-like focus on your vision, and you consistently set goals and take action to obtain the success.

Do you want to be a doctor?  You will need to take advanced math and science courses in high school to prepare you for the level of math and science that are required at the college level and in medical school.  Do you want to be a teacher?  Researching which colleges have colleges of education and the programs they offer before applying to college would be wise.  Do you want to work for that non-profit charity organization?  What types of positions are available there?  What type of education do they require?  Does it make you more competitive if you complete an internship with them?  Achieving your vision and finding your personal success needle requires focusing on what is needed to get there and then following through to take action.

There are going to be times when it is tempting to take your eyes off of the goal of finding that “needle.”  The haystack of life can be challenging.  Friends, socializing, and even extracurricular activities can sometimes get in the way.  Sometimes, it will be more tempting to watch television than to study for that math test.  There are also times when the stack of hay will be intimidating and you will feel like giving up.  Applying for college and financial aid can seem like daunting tasks, and you will be tempted to lose focus.  At times like these, it is good to remind yourself of your vision.  Refocus on your “success needle.”


Hofstrand, D.  (2016). Vision and mission statements: A roadmap of where you want to go and how to get there. Ag Decision Maker.  Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Department of Economics.  Available from:


Kamenetz, A. &Turner, C. (2016). The high school graduation rate reaches a record high—again.  NprED.  Retrieved from:


National Center for Education Statistics. (2016).  Undergraduate retention and graduation rates. Institute of Education Sciences.  Retrieved from:


Points to Ponder:

  1. Explain how the author uses the phrases” finding a needle in a haystack” as a metaphor for life and finding success. (ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.1)
  1. What is your definition of success, or what does your “success needle” look like? Describe it, and also outline at least three actions that you feel are necessary for you to take as you move toward your “success needle.” (ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.2)