I spent my week with How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough. I do think every parent should read this book. It was recommended to me by the principal of my daughter's school. I am definitely glad HE read it.
A concept in the book sticks with me. In identifying and isolating the important character elements needed to succeed, researchers and psychologist pick seven values: grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity.
It delves into why it is important to find a way to encourage children to develop a number of core values and the critical difference it makes. I have been an entrepreneur my entire working life. I have experienced some pretty difficult situations both as a child and adult. Paul manages to articulate very clearly my experience. Values I nurture in myself and seek in colleagues. The "acute four."
Grit is defined as strength of mind and spirit. What is it that makes an individual stay firm and focused on a goal despite obstacles? How do they maintain integrity under very challenging circumstances? The book explores the hypothesis that, "It is in the experience of some level of hardship that learning occurs, and grit nurtured." I relate to this very much.
Not that I am a glutton for pain, but I am thankful, in a weird way;to the many challenges I faced as a child and young adult. It crystallized my dreams of success and my determination to achieve it in some form!
In his poem "The Way It Is," William Stafford talks about "the thread that you follow.. people wonder about what you are pursuing."
I have often wondered what it is, that helps one person identify the thread and cling onto it and the other, not. Somehow, the big question teeters on the paradox of giving your child the best you can afford to, whiles simultaneously helping them acquire the grit that only challenges may help them develop. A dear friend swears that luck is the predominant factor that determines success as a parent. I don't deny that good fortune is a grace that plays a huge role in success in almost anything. It is important however, to take a step and look at the statistics that point to higher substance abuse, depression, isolation and other issues in children from higher income homes.
As an employer, I am often struck by the display of a very low threshold for challenging environments by many of my colleagues and employees. The preoccupation is on making "fast money" so to speak. Employees who are unwilling to put in any more than the required hours of work, my observation is that there is an acute shortage of passion and perseverance. There just doesn't seem to be enough to go around!
Social intelligence is not a subject taught at school, and yet, it is one of the most important determinant of progress. I find it a mishap that curricular hasn't caught up to it. It is invaluable to understand the best practices in human relations and self-comportment. People do judge a book by its cover after all. For some, being socially aware and considerate is selectively applied to people they think are "important." I am often in meetings where individuals choose to interact with their phones rather than pay attention to the conversation at the table. Just the other day, I was on the subway in New York, a group of students enter the car and proceeded to practically scream swearing words, tinged with loud laughter at each other for the entire ride. They were inconsiderate of everyone else in the space. I found myself picturing them, perhaps unfairly, in their work environments.
Some call it self-control. I prefer self-monitoring. I consider this the base value, as it helps to maintain other core values. The ability to delay or resist gratification may help preserve integrity. To live and work with integrity, dignity, avoid crowd thinking, etc. one needs a health dose of self control and monitoring. Everyone wants to succeed at some level, but pitifully few are willing to put in the time, or make the sacrifices necessary to achieve their goals; they fail to fully appreciate that we are in environments of limitations and tradeoffs and it often becomes necessary to delay gratification.
Not least important is gratitude. An important condition to appreciating progress, achievements, and helpful people. An individual without gratitude is not a pleasant experience. It is staggering how lacking this particular trait is! Gratitude hold the key to a satisfying, fulfilling life. How may you enjoy your present good fortune, if you fail to recognize and appreciate its value and most importantly, the valuable people in your life?
A look at the prosperity index may reveal that the most successful people or nations are not necessarily the happiest. Many times, they actually seem inversely related. How is it for instance, that the poor child next door to me who barely has two meals a day is happily running around the neighborhood, and the rich kid in my daughter's school perpetually seems to have a petulant pout and is disrespectful to the parents that work very hard to keep her at school?
It is important to explore ways to encourage kids to appreciate what generations have sacrificed to ensure them a better life and to help develop in them the values they need to create their own achievements and live more satisfied lives.