Life Success – Is it about Persistence or Following Your Passion?
“Everybody’s life is either rewarding or an example.” -Tony Robbins
Remember that person in high school who was insanely smart, but just didn’t have the drive to reach their potential? You know, that kid that always seemed bored in class, aced every test, but couldn’t be bothered to do their homework. After all, they knew all the answers, had their career plans, so why do the extra work? We’ve also known someone who wasn’t necessarily the most passionate or intelligent one in school, but worked tirelessly to accomplish anything and everything expected of them, no matter how necessary the task seemed.
So where are they now?
Einstein flunked and ended up alright
Whether passion or persistence is more important to success is a long-debated topic. Of course, there are several examples of drop-outs achieving massive success like Steve Jobs, Lady Gaga, and Bill Gates to name a few. But is passion truly enough in and of itself to help a person lead a successful, fulfilling life?
There are two types of motivation that drive our behaviors: intrinsic and extrinsic. Motivation is considered intrinsic if a person is driven by the natural satisfaction that will result from their achievement. Intrinsic motivation energizes our feelings of passion and fulfillment. Motivation that is extrinsic is driven by trying to earn a tangible reward or to avoid punishment – this type of motivation is reflected in persistence and hard work, as it is not necessarily enjoyable or interesting to engage in, but is necessary to receive an end-goal.
If a child is naturally drawn to learning languages, they might study French for the mere satisfaction of knowing how to communicate common phrases. They may watch YouTube tutorials on their own time or even become a French Professor someday. This passion to master French would be intrinsically motivated. If the same child isn’t as inclined to achievement in science, their parent might offer them an extrinsic reward, such as money or a new game, if they can improve their biology grade. The student’s persistence to perform in biology may end after meeting their minimum obligation, or they may discover that they love it now that they dedicated some time to studying it.
Which one will get my kid on the Honor Roll?
Both passion and persistence are important to success, and it is difficult to reach one’s potential without combination of both. Think of the winter Olympics – you can often tell which figure skaters are the ones with the most natural talent and passion – they have a sense of effortlessness, as if that’s what they were born to do. Then you have the ones who weren’t necessarily “born with it” but for fame, financial security, or other motivations have worked themselves to the bone to get where they are – their performance resonates with determination and precision. At the end of the day, they get scored on both technique and presentation, so the ones with a strong sense of passion and persistence have the best odds.
Passion without persistence
"The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary." -Vidal Sassoon
A person with passion and poor persistence is likely to give up when challenges arise. No matter how strong a person’s passions or talents are, they will eventually come up against obstacles that threaten their upward mobility. For example, let’s say your child is a prodigy artist who dreams of having their own gallery. However, they know nothing about running a business and didn’t put much effort in school, thinking an artist really has no need for learning the Pythagorean theorem. Without the persistence and drive to learn effective practices and develop a convincing business model, they would not qualify for a loan to open their gallery, nor would their gallery be likely to succeed if it did open.
Persistence without passion
"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do… Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it." -Steve Jobs
A person with persistence but no passion may not be quick to give up, but their performance will likely not be at the same level as someone who is passionate - nor will they feel the same sense of fulfillment, and well-being is an important element in success. What’s more, passion empowers persistence; studies show that students who are passionate about a topic are more likely to persist through challenges that arise in mastering the subject.
Synergy = Success
Cultivating both your child’s passions and persistency are the best way to equip them for success. When these two traits work together, a child is motivated by the fulfillment of the task at hand, and believes in their ability to overcome challenges that might otherwise prompt them to give up.
Got it - so how do I support them?
Here are some tips to foster persistence and passion in your child:
1. Teach active coping
"It’s not stress that kills us, it’s our reaction to it.'" – Hans Selye
At each stage of a child’s development, there are social and academic stressors that present themselves. Students that employ active coping mechanisms tend to perform better than those who use avoidant methods. Avoidant coping includes procrastination, angry outbursts, over or under eating, or blaming others for their stress. When your child is feeling stressed, encourage them to positively affirm themselves, record their thoughts in a journal, vent to a friend, and set time each day for relaxing and enjoyable activities. Emotional intelligence is strongly correlated with academic success.
2. Consider your family culture
“A man is but the product of his thoughts; what he thinks, he becomes.” -Mahatma Gandhi
For all of you Game of Thrones fans, what do you think of when you hear the name “Lannister”? Aside from power thirsty tyrants, you may recall the saying, “A Lannister always pays his debts.” Your child will internalize the identity traits that you associate with your family. Develop a mantra that you say whenever challenges arise, “We are a strong family. We don’t give up when times get tough!” Convey that persistency is a part of who you are.
3. Empower through responsibility
"Whenever you see a successful person, you only see the public glories, never the private sacrifices to reach them." -Vaibhav Sha
Giving your child age-appropriate responsibilities builds their sense of competency. Task your school-aged child with feeding or walking your pets, washing the dishes, and laying out their clothing for school. Encourage a part-time job for your teenager or young adult living at home. However, be sure that responsibilities are increased gradually and that you leave ample time for them to relax and unwind; burning them out will reduce their feelings of autonomy and passion for what they are doing.
4. Develop alternate pathways
“The only problem we really have is we think we’re not supposed to have problems! Problems call us to higher level – face & solve them now!” -Tony Robbin
When you are inspired to achieve something, you’re more likely to find ways to overcome obstacles. For example, if you’ve always dreamt of becoming a nurse but just can’t seem to pass anatomy, you’d probably spring for a tutor. If you didn’t see how that class impacted your dream, you wouldn’t be motivated to spend your time or money on extra help and might just drop the class. The same goes for your kids; when they encounter obstacles, they may not always be motivated to seek alternate pathways on their own. Discuss their challenges, collaborate to explore different approaches, and discover strategies together. Model that obstacles are not a reason to abandon a task.
5. Celebrate failure
“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness.” -Oprah Winfre
Remind your child that the most successful people in the world have failed more times than most others have tried. Failure paves the way for success, and the true failure is giving up. Even if your child is engaging in something they are talented at and passionate about, they won’t always bat a thousand, and that’s a good thing. Resist rescuing them every time they get frustrated or say they can’t do something. Intervening deprives them of their opportunity to learn from trial and error.
6. Be strategic with incentives
“Without delayed gratification, there is no persistence.”
Don’t offer your child money or ice cream for every task you want them to accomplish. In the real world, there will be things they have to get done that won’t offer instant gratification. Incentives tend to be more effective for projects in which quantity is the goal –tasks that are repetitive and non-complex, such as writing vocabulary words 25 times. For these types of tasks, an incentive may increase your child’s motivation. For tasks where quality is the end goal, however, incentives can damper their performance. Try to avoid offering incentives for tasks requiring broad, creative thinking.
Some tips for cultivating passions:
1. Listen to their dreams
"If you don't design your own life plan, chances are you'll fall into someone else's plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much." -Jim Rohn
Self-determination theory suggests that humans have three innate needs:
- A need to feel competent
- A need to feel related
- A need to feel autonomous
These three needs are what energize passion. If you are pressuring or guilting your child over their school performance, they will not feel competent or autonomous. Listen to their feelings about the subjects they dislike. Acknowledge their feelings, be positive about their passions, and try to help them connect the dots between their dreams and obligations. For example, if they dream of being the next big rock star, explain how math can improve their guitar skills.
"The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus."
“Academic hope” refers to the process of thinking about one’s goals, the motivation to achieve those goals, and one’s plans to achieve them. Students with high academic hope tend to have increased success. Model goal-setting, planning, and achievement in everyday life. Share your past and present goals, plans, and achievements. Demonstrate that your passions and interests are important to you, and you are willing to do what it takes to pursue them. Talk to your child about their goals, ask them about their action plans, and supportively listen to their ideas. Positively reinforce them each time they make progress.
3. Help them connect
"If people like you, they're going to want to do business with you. And if they don't, you're going to have an almost insurmountable obstacle to overcome." -Barbara Corcora
Students who actively engage with peers and faculty at their school are more likely to succeed. Encourage your child to join clubs, attend tutoring groups, and approach their teachers for extra help or just to discuss interesting concepts.
4. IQ isn’t the be-all end-all
"As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others." -Bill Gate
While you want to support your child’s intellectual growth, knowledge and reasoning are not the only factors that contribute to academic success. Put as much emphasis on character building. Traits related to leadership, responsibility, perseverance, and adaptability have all shown correlation with higher GPA’s.
5. Consult a specialist
If you are concerned about your child’s motivations, coping skills, and academic success, a specialist in education can help your child get the most out of their scholastic experience. A specialist will evaluate your child’s challenges, determine the possible presence of any learning disorders, and develop a customized plan to empower you to support their growth.
Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in child and educational psychology. Dr. Shinn specializes in helping families understand the education processes conducted by schools and empowering them to become informed advocates for their children. By providing parents with a thorough understanding of academic practices, as well as understanding the psychological motivations and challenges at each stage of child development, Dr. Shinn helps parents determine the best educational path for their child.
Cynthia Johnson, LMFT, is a specialist in Parenting and Child Therapy at Variations Psychology. She has years of experience in supporting families and strengthening relationships between parents, teens, and children.
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