Determination, Persistence—And Something Else
From an interview with Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed:
On the focus of his book:
“It goes a step back from the 10,000 hours [referenced in Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers] to say, ‘OK, well, which kids are going to be the ones that can devote 10,000 hours to something and what is it that they can do or we can do to for them to help them become that sort of determined person?’ So it’s looking not at how you use your character traits to get to success, but how you build those character traits to begin with in the first place.”
On which character traits are the most important to foster:
“Different educators define them in different ways, but some of the ones that they seem to be collecting around are: grit, perseverance, self-control, optimism and persistence. Persistence is the one I think transcends all of them. I think that’s one problem that lots of kids have and one thing our education system doesn’t prepare them for is how to deal with failure, how to deal with setbacks. Kids are under a lot of pressure, they have a lot of responsibilities, they have a lot of homework, but the path through the system actually doesn’t have a lot of challenge in it. The rules and the process is actually pretty straightforward, and so I think that kids get out of that system, even graduating from great universities, and they don’t have the character to persist despite failures, despite obstacles, and so when they do run into problems the way all of us do in adulthood, they’re really stuck.”
On whether kids are able to gain these skills after childhood:
“It is fixable, that’s definitely one of the best times to intervene, but in this book I spent more time then I expected to looking at adolescent interventions, and I think that that’s the place that this science is moving. That once kids become adolescents, they can think about their own brains in a way that they can’t when they’re younger, they can think about themselves, they can reflect on themselves, do what psychologists call meta-cognition. There are lots of these metacognitive techniques that kids can use to really transform themselves in adolescence, so I spent a lot of time looking at different interventions where kids are able to do that.” Read more here.
I’m intrigued by Tough’s focus on determination and persistence. I would add one more: resourcefulness. Persistence won’t get you very far if it means banging your head against the same brick wall. But someone who is resourceful can find ways around and over and under that wall. Kids need to figure not just how to keep going, but where to go in the first place.