Croskey’s Corner: Determination
(originally published in 2018)
“If people only knew how hard I work to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”
–Michelangelo, Italian sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer
“I’ve been through a fire, and I stayed. I’ve been through a flood, and I stayed. I’ve just been through a tornado. I’m gonna stay.” These are the words of a woman who lost most of her house in the March, 2012, tornado which hit Moscow, Ohio. Clearly, she was Determined to stay. Matter of fact, she showed me a clear example of the definition of the Character Quality of the Month, Determination; “Overcoming obstacles to reach my goal” She had a Purpose; she had Goals she intended to Accomplish; she was heedless of the Opposition. Or, if you wanted a clearer definition of Determination, all you had to do was look at the expression on her face. Will she still be in Moscow in 2013? You can count on it!
In our house, when one of us shows Determination, we call it being a Trooper. It means that the family member had to go through a very trying ordeal, but stuck to it. My son fought a beta streptococcus infection when he was 4 days old, and survived. My daughter had 2 wisdom teeth ripped from her jaw, which then got infected. She stoically persevered for 5 days before the surgeon’s office admitted she needed an antibiotic. Both were being a Trooper in our book.
You have witnessed many examples of Determination in your own life, no doubt. Here is my dilemma with Determination; let’s call it Hard Work for the discussion. Which is more crucial in accomplishing anything? Hard Work? Or Talent? (You are not allowed to say, “Both.”) Paul Daugherty interviewed Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds. Talent? Well, Votto is a .313 hitter and was Most Valuable Player in 2010. He won a Gold Glove Award in 2011. Yet, Mr. Daugherty shared that Votto attributed his success at hitting to reading and re-reading a book written 40 years ago, The Science of Hitting, by Ted Williams. According to Votto, hitting is about doing things correctly. He quotes Williams as saying that everyone knows HOW to hit, but few do. The secret was not really a secret – Work Hard. Votto tries to follow that motto. In other interviews, Votto has said that he had to Work very Hard to learn to play First Base well enough to win the Gold Glove. I am not going to give in on the need for Hard Work, even when you remind me that Talents such as speed, hand-eye coordination, strength, and great reflexes all help immensely. As a .067 hitter in my best year in Little League, I should know!
But, for another argument for Hard Work, take the Michelangelo quote at the beginning of this piece: “If people only knew how hard I work to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.” One of the greatest sculptors and painters of all time and he credits his achievement to Hard Work, not Talent.
The story is often the same with actors, singers, or writers. Years of suffering, Hard Work, and finally a payoff. What keeps people going is Hard Work and Determination. (I guess the Character First! people thought Determination alone sounded better as a Character Quality. But honestly, it ought to have both in the title.)
For teachers, the idea of Determination is a big one. If teachers are asked who the smartest kids in their rooms are, they are likely to describe a student with great Executive Functioning skills; that is, a student who is a good self-starter on individual work, who sticks with the task, who ignores distractions, who can stop if interrupted but can get back to it with apparent ease, and who finishes the job well. (And, one who remembers to turn it in at the right time!) So, the neuropsychologist might call it Executive Functioning, but a teacher calls it Determination to get the job done. And a boss on a later job will call it a good Work Ethic.
CNN author Bob Greene wrote a memorial column to his friend Jeff Zaslow, co-author with Randy Pausch of The Last Lecture.( http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/04/opinion/greene-zaslow/index.html?hpt=hp_c2 ) He said of Zaslow that he only knew one way to do a job – the right way. He went on to say that, no matter the job, making the extra effort to make sure things are done correctly is essential. He gave the example of a teacher who reviews a lesson plan, adding something vital late at night, even though neither students nor school administrators will ever be aware of the effort she put in. She does it not because others will know, but because SHE will know. Greene says that when the day finally comes and you have a big success, get a big “break,” it won’t be because of your extra effort one time. It will be because you made the effort every single time. And THAT is Determination!
So, educators, you know something about the value of Hard Work – in yourself, and in your students. But what about Talent. I’m not sure. I think the Talented and Gifted Movement makes a persuasive argument that some kids have more Talent in certain areas than others do. I will admit that I do not know if any person with low Talent and immense Hard Work can succeed at anything she or he wants to do. I DO know that someone with immense Talent and no Work Ethic can easily end up without success. But which truly, is more important? Can I learn to draw with lessons in technique and lots of practice? Or do I also need Talent? I give up.
But teachers have one choice, dictated by circumstance. They cannot inject Talent where it is not there. No gene-splicing machines or genetic engineering programs are in the school clinic. Teachers are stuck demonstrating techniques, offering practice opportunities, and motivating students to believe in and utilize Hard Work to make the most of their efforts. And, of most importance, educators can present the model that making the extra effort every time to do a job right pays off somewhere down the road. In fact, Determination is partially an act of faith that Hard Work will eventually lead to success. You can count on it!