I've always struggled with the concept of success because it seems to carry the idea of money and fame. I've argued, on more than one occasion, that being successful doesn't necessarily mean money, but rather, the accomplishment of something. Yet, in a recent conversation with my little sister I found myself saying, and believing, that I haven't found success in a few of my endeavors because no one is willing to pay for them, because I'm doing them on my own time, for free. Success, apparently, is marked by the dollar sign, because, whether I like it or not, we put our money where our mouth is.
Like many of my friends I've talked with over the years, the idea of obtaining this kind of success, the kind that reaches beyond personal gratification and lives in the land of compensation, seems to dependent upon skills and talents, time and resources, and the many other factors that we don't seem to have. Which is why we haven't found success, and perhaps never will.
Recently, though, I've been encouraged by a different notion, that talents and time and resources can aid in the acquisition of success, but they are not the greatest determiner. More than any of these, passion and perseverance (earnestness even) and the relentless pursuit of one's commitments is what determines success.
Angela Duckworth calls this "grit."
Angela Duckworth is smarter than me, and for sure much more successful, but I'm not quit sure I believe her conclusion of "we don't know," because I think we do know, and I think it has to deal with the very idea she is presenting - grit. We teach our kids grit.
As a child, I remember - often - working with my dad on tasks and projects I didn't really care to be a part of. Things like, chopping wood all Saturday, shoveling the the long driveway, raking leaves, and various other tasks. When I complained or argued, my father made me do them anyway. Before playing with friends or watching t.v.. I remember being so frustrated and angry because all I wanted to do was be with my friends, not working. I also remember, even though I would never admit it to him and only barely admitted to myself, that when the job was completed, I would look at what I had done and feel a sense of accomplishment and be proud of what I had done.
Looking back, it was during these times that the seeds to success were being planted.
As parents, as educators, we can teach our kids grit by providing opportunities for them to struggle, sweat, and endure through difficult tasks. Tasks like overcoming difficult hikes, persevering through piano or guitar lessons, and even pulling nails from old pallets. They might complain, but if the task has purpose, if they can see that there is a reason for all their hard work, when it is over, when the bench and drawer are built, whether they admit it or not, there will be a sense of accomplishment, because they gritted through.
Duckworth ends her talk without much conclusion, but rather, a charge - to be "gritty about getting our kids grittier." I think we can do this by being purposeful about getting our kids engaged in tasks that demand hardship and difficulty and, most importantly, longevity, but that are also full of purpose.
For more talks and ideas of Success, you can listen to this TED Radio Hour appropriately entitled, Success. It's a great listen and worth the 50 minutes.
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