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How is it that ‘the tough get going?

Have you ever heard the saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going?”  Recently, I overheard this advice being shared by a 4th grade student to his classmate.  It got me thinking… how has this youngster come to understand that there is a value in sticking with something–to see a project through to completion.  In recent years there has been a renewed focus on the emotional intelligence of student development as evidenced by the addition of character education into school curricula.  This is good, but does it go far enough?

Researchers such as Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth suggest that a child’s mindset can have a significant effect on the academic opportunities and challenges s/he might embrace.  Resiliency or ‘grit’ (as it is being described) is needed as children, adolescents and adults face the challenges inherent in our evolving world and marketplace.  This attitude of ‘the tough get going’ should and can be encouraged, nurtured and developed.

Identified by Dweck as a growth mindset, she suggests that each of us begins with a certain set of skills, talents and competencies but that these are not fixed points.  Our efforts, our focus, our stretching helps us to develop, grow and change what we are capable of doing and how we view ourselves.  This mindset (that we are able to move beyond our present-day capacity), consistently reinforced by parents and the learning community, eventually helps children to, in the words of Carol Dweck, develop “a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

In his ‘last lecture’ at Carnegie Mellon University, the late Randy Pausch, Ph.D. stated “experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.” Life is full of experience producing moments!  Steve Jobs certainly had a few, as did Soichiro Honda, Arianna Huffington, David Robinson, Winston Churchill and Missouri’s own Walt Disney to name a few.  Each of the aforementioned struggled before they experienced great success.  No one likes to experience disappointment, falling short or rejection but these are some of the moments that later proved to be our growth plates, and just as the growth plate in a bone determines the future shape and length of a bone, these experiential growth plates help shape and direct our living and learning journey.

If you want to build anything it takes some heavy lifting…this includes character.  It is not enough to say this month’s focus is ‘perseverance.’  That ‘tough get going’ attitude must be shared and lived out by students, teachers and parents.  And if we are successful, we will have helped a new generation of problem solvers, innovators, inventors and visionaries.

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