This answer is best told in the story of Genghis Khan and the Three Rivers.
When Genghis Khan was a young man, he lived a difficult life. Now, you might be thinking, “What does Genghis Khan have to do with how to make good choices in school?” And you would be right. After all, Genghis Khan was not well-educated. He was certainly not a scientist! He did not invent new technologies either.
Instead, he grew up eating small mammals like rats. He also would eat birds, fish, and roots in the ground. Genghis Khan lost his father when he was young because someone poisoned him. The Tayichiud tribe he was with abandoned him, his mother, and his brothers.
In spite of this difficult childhood, Genghis Khan was a leader of people. He deeply respected himself, and he showed that through action.
Once upon a time, Genghis Khan came upon a huge choice that would define him for the rest of his life. But first I will share a little background about this great leader. In spite of being a teenager, Genghis Khan married young. He was only 9 years old when he met Borte, and they got married later when he was 16.
Borte must have been a special person because she was kidnapped by the Merkid tribe. Now, you might think being kidnapped is a big deal in Mongolia. That isn’t really true. Actually, kidnapping women was pretty common back in the 12th century. In fact, it was how Genghis Khan’s mother came to meet his father since she was kidnapped from her first husband too. Violence was a part of life back then. I didn’t say that life was easy!
So if kidnapping Borte was not what made her special, what was it? Lots of people said that she “had fire in her face and light in her eyes.” If you read about Borte on Wikipedia, this means she is smart.
But not even her brains made her that special! No, what made her special was what Genghis Khan did after Borte was kidnapped by the Merkid.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “what does this story have to do with school?” Well, a lot actually! Knowing how to make good choices in school is a lot like making good choices in life. It is not always easy. Actually, knowing how to make good choices ANYWHERE is pretty hard!
And it was no different for Genghis Khan.
When he lost Borte, Genghis Khan was mad and sad. So he did what any man would do when he felt lost. He prayed to God. His god was the Eternal Blue Sky and the Golden Light of the Sun, and they lived around Burkhan Khaldun, which means “God Mountain.” This was a special place because the Mongols believed that the soul of the earth flowed through the water, especially rivers. Genghis Khan believed this, and some people still do.
As Genghis Khan prayed, he saw three rivers flowing down from the mountain. And that’s when he knew he had a choice to make. Which river would he decide to follow?
To the southeast, there lay the Kherlen River leading to the steppe. A steppe is a large area of flat grassland with no forests. It was a place with the opportunity to raise crops and have livestock, but it was also an area vulnerable to attack since there weren’t many trees. As a herder, no matter how many animals and no matter big his family got, Genghis Khan could expect to be challenged. The Merkid who just took Borte would be back. The Tayichiud tribe were no longer his friends either.
The land was too rich and there was not enough space to live in peace no matter how rich he got.
To the northeast, the Onon River gave safety to the people that lived around it. Since it is much colder in that direction, there wouldn’t be as many people either. It had a lot of twists and turns that could provide shelter to the people who did live there, but there wasn’t any place to store animals. This was where he grew up in poverty after the Tayichiud tribe abandoned his family. It would be familiar and comforting, but it wouldn’t be very nice and he would probably have to eat rats again.
He could live there in peace and take another wife, but there would be no reward here.
To the southwest, Genghis Khan saw the Tuul River. This river was not better than the Kherlen and Onon rivers. In fact, the Tuul River was the hardest choice of all. It would lead him down the path of conflict, but it would also lead him to people that would want to help him get Borte back. Some of Genghis Khan’s friends did not like the Merkid.
Of course, he might fail to win against the Merkid too. But the Tuul River was his only chance.
The big choice
Genghis Khan chose the Tuul river and fought against the Merkid. And do you know what happened? He rescued Borte! Then he built an army and took over the world. His empire went from the Pacific Ocean all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. There were not many people like Genghis Khan.
And it started with this big choice. Would he live without Borte or would he fight for her? No one would have blamed him for giving up. Kidnapping was normal back then, and he could always find someone else. But Genghis Khan acknowledged that he was in pain from losing his wife. He was angry. He wanted to do something about his loss. So he took action.
No one else could have done it for him.
The meaning of each river
Sometimes it is hard to make good choices in school. There are many people that will want to influence you. Maybe your friends want to play Fortnite all the time and don’t care about studying. Or maybe they are smoking Juul and want you to as well. Maybe your parents want you to become a scientist and you want to be a musician instead.
Whatever your challenge, it probably won’t be like that of Genghis Khan. Most of us didn’t have to grow up eating rats! Maybe something very painful happened in your life, but maybe not.
Either way, we all have choices like Genghis Khan did. The Kherlen River represents the wide path. Many people will take it and it has nice advantages, but you do not get to control your future. You might get rich and have many things, but someone else could take away everything you have at any moment.
The Onon River represents the safe path. It is a harder life, but people will leave you alone. You will have enough to live on without having to rely on the help of others. If you don’t care about being famous, this can be a nice way to live. It is hard to develop yourself on the Onon River.
But the Tuul River is a wild card. Nobody knows where it will lead, but you will have to fight to move forward. If you think things through when you take action, you can have an incredible life. It would be better than any life the Kherlen and Onon river could ever offer. But there is danger too. If you are foolish with your planning and do not consider the needs of others, you will fail and your life will be painful.
How to make the best choices in school
If you are in high school getting ready for college and building out your study skills or in college getting ready for a career, you have the chance to choose your river. There will be a career or maybe a SO to choose as well. You will go to your Burkhan Khaldun mountain or maybe the mountain will come to you! The truth is that some people think about their choice and others don’t, but everyone chooses a river.
Once you get older, it is very hard to change rivers. Not because you’re not smart or not clever enough, no. It’s just hard to change once we set ourselves on the path of life. Our habits when we are young define us when we are old. And habits are a very hard thing to change.
Please don’t get me wrong. The best river is not the Tuul River. It is not even the Kherlen or the Onon rivers. Instead, the best river is the one that you think through and choose for yourself.
Genghis Khan chose the Tuul River because he loved Borte more than anything else. Like him, we can follow his example and listen to our hearts.
Story inspired by Jack Weatherford.
TL;DR-Genghis Khan chose his path when he was very young. By doing so, he set his destiny. But the best path is not the brave and courageous one, it is the path you think through and choose for yourself.