Krysten Godfrey Maddocks
November 20, 2017
Achieving a goal you that might take years to complete may be daunting, especially if you face unanticipated challenges along the way. Persistence requires more than intelligence. It requires both passion and stamina.
Southern New Hampshire University alumna Melissa Gillespie proved she had all three when she completed her bachelor's degree in nursing, graduating 17 years later on Mother's Day in 2017. What made her forge ahead to finish her degree, despite several moves to support her husband - a sailor in the U.S. Navy - and the demands of raising three children?
"You have to take the time and put in the effort and energy. You have to want it more than you want to be comfortable," Gillespie said.
Still, Gillespie saw the light at the end of the tunnel when at times her goal seemed far out of reach. At one point in her journey, she stayed behind in Washington with her children for 19 months to finish school while her husband moved across the country to Virginia on a naval assignment. Even today, she juggles her job as an operating room nurse in a trauma unit with a two-hour, round-trip commute while her husband is deployed at sea.
"I don't give up, I find a different way, " Gillespie said. "You have to get in the mindset that it may not be okay right now, but it is not always going to be not okay. You are working toward something."
It turns out that people like Gillespie share several of the same traits, according to Angela Lee Duckworth, a former teacher who went on to become a psychologist and study why some people are more motivated than others to achieve their goals despite considerable obstacles set before them. In her TED Talk, "Grit: The power of passion and perseverance," Duckworth explains that intelligence alone did not explain why some cadets were able to graduate from West Point Military Academy or why some salespeople outperformed others. The characteristic each of these successful people had in common was "grit."
"Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals...Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint," Duckworth said.
So how do people endure setbacks along the way and learn to become more gritty in their attempts to reach their goals?
Somewhere in their lives, they develop a "growth mindset," or a frame of mind in which they view failure as an opportunity for meaningful growth and skill development, according to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck. In her research, she said that elementary school students who were told "not yet," internalized that they were on a learning curve to success rather than on a downward spiral toward failure.
"Just the words 'yet' or 'not yet,' we're finding, give kids greater confidence, give them a path into the future that creates greater persistence," Dweck said in a recent TED Talk. "In one study, we taught them that every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections, and over time, they can get smarter."
No matter how old, you can develop good habits that will help you develop a growth mindset that paves the way for perseverance. In his Fast Company article, "7 Habits of Highly Persistent People," author and emotional intelligence coach Harvey Deutschendorf said that highly persistent people like Gillespie share these seven habits in common.
"Major success seldom comes easily or without a great deal of effort. Often the only difference between those who succeed and those who don't is the ability to keep going long after the rest have dropped out," Deutschendorf said.
Gillespie experienced a period in her own life where she was forced to drop out of her degree program for four years to take care of her children. Although it posed a road block, it was never a setback. She urged others in pursuit of their goals to seek out help, whether they need caregivers or moral support. She also suggests picking up an activity that encourages mindfulness, such as knitting, listening to audio books or practicing yoga, to help relax and re-focus.
Most of all, you have to keep your eye on the prize. Every decision you make is a choice and there are trade-offs you have to be willing to make along the way, Gillespie said.
Krysten Godfrey Maddocks '11 is a writer and marketing/communication professional. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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