Secrets to Success


I take the title of this “Art of Learning” blog entry from a quote I shared on Facebook, not from any special insight. In fact, there are any number of ingredients for success, and they are probably all well known, not secret. Adding to my disclaimer, the quote I shared had 21 “likes” the first day it was up, and that might not meet your threshold for online wisdom. Without further ado, here’s the quote:


“There are two secrets to success: tenacity and gratitude. Tenacity keeps you pressing forward when things get hard, and gratitude will not allow you to get bitter along the way.”


I can speak most authoritatively from my own experience, as one might expect. I could reflect on hard work to attain goals or the tenacity teams I have been part of or have coached have shown. I’m not sure gratitude always gets equal billing with tenacity, but it has such a powerful impact on one’s mindset and ability to be resilient.


I know if I ever begin to feel overwhelmed or under-appreciated, the quickest antidote is to pause, reflect, and be grateful for the incredible opportunities I have in life, the remarkable people I get to work with, and the very worthy cause of working in public education.


The tenacity, it seems, is less of a problem as long as one doesn’t just give up because there is always another challenge right around the corner. Obviously, this isn’t true only of education. Life is challenging. If we are living our lives to the fullest, we are going to encounter obstacles and resistance at some point. How can we keep from becoming defeated in the face of obstacles?


One of the best considerations I have seen of that topic comes in Jim Collins’s highly regarded book Good to Great. Collins writes about the Stockdale Paradox, named for James Stockdale, former vice-presidential candidate, naval officer, and Vietnam prisoner of war. Stockdale was a P.O.W for more than seven years, was repeatedly tortured, and had no concrete reason to believe he would make it out alive. In fact, others who were pure optimists did not survive. Eventually they became crushed when hoped-for relief did not arrive. Stockdale embraced both optimism and harsh reality. He explained that he had to simultaneously acknowledge the brutal reality he was faced with and maintain an unshaking faith that he would prevail in the end. I have seen this paradox defined as “hoping for the best, but acknowledging and preparing for the worst.”


Tenacity implies awareness of challenges and willingness to take up the fight. Gratitude acknowledges the big picture and all we have to be thankful for. I can tell you as a classroom teacher I sometimes had a fifty-minute class period that felt like a never-ending battle; but before I knew it, I was looking back on decades thankfully.


The Stockdale Paradox acknowledges we are going to have “days like that” or even longer, tough periods of our lives, but we can still approach our days with hope and purpose. I certainly hope that everyone with an education job does that because we owe students our best. I also hope that we can teach young people to be both tenacious and grateful. Learning and growth happen as a result of struggle, but adults don’t always want to let kids struggle.


I believe deeply in the concept of “productive struggle.” Sometimes we hear sports franchises or announcers talk about “the process.” This acknowledges growth through tenacious effort. In education process and productive struggle are key. Especially in today’s rapidly changing world, we are trying to teach students how to think, how to be learners. There is no longer just a static body of knowledge students need to know. That ship sailed with Google. Now it’s about applying knowledge, solving problems, working in a team, and being dependable. I would argue that tenacity and gratitude are essential life skills that we need to imbue students with.


Secrets to success? Possibly—but they are right there for us to embrace and model. We have opportunities to do that as educators, certainly, but also as parents, grandparents, business owners, co-workers, and teammates, too. Indianola CSD and the community of Indianola should be places where children see tenacity and gratitude on display every day. Thank you for the examples of these “secrets” that you provide to today’s young people.