As I write this, we are almost at the beginning of another academic year. While I love the quiet of summer, around this time, I look forward to the buzz of a new year. The new years are especially exciting since I’ve been teaching a freshman seminar. The students are so excited (no matter how much they try to hide their excitement), they’ve transitioned to the next phase of life, complete with its promise and the potential for a bright future.
Most students live up to their promise to some degree, although, sadly, a non-trivial number won’t make it through college. What, then, separates those who make it to graduation and those who do not? Of course, there are many factors, some of which are beyond the students’ control. Here, I focus on factors over which the student has some control. Most of you reading this are beyond your formal student days, but I hope you’ll find some thoughts that can help you through difficult times.
Long-time readers may recall an earlier column on grit, which research indicates is a better predictor of success than traditional indicators (such as intelligence). Grit is defined as persistence plus passion for a long term goal. It seems to me that these two factors are interrelated; the passion for a long-term goal helps you persist. Take away the passion, and persistence declines.
I see one big problem with grit as a precursor of success: What happens when you achieve the long-term goal? Years ago, I ran a marathon. Afterward, I became somewhat bummed out, but didn’t understand why. It turns out that my experience is not uncommon; there’s even a name for it: post-marathon blues. Achieving the goal, which may have been the focus of your life for some time, leaves a void. Because of this, I think persistence is better built through focusing on your purpose than on a single goal. (Of course, there are many intermediate goals that move you toward your purpose.) Purpose is like the horizon, you can move steadily toward it, but you’ll never actually get there. This is the beauty of purpose; a strong sense of purpose is not only motivating, it doesn’t suffer from the achievement blues syndrome. As you might imagine, understanding your purpose isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. (Please refer to my earlier column on purposefulness for ideas on how to determine your purpose in life. If you can’t find it online, email me and I’ll send you a copy.)
Focusing on your purpose is one factor in building persistence, but there are other things that should also help. Among these is maintaining a future orientation. In other words, keep your focus on the future, not the past. There’s no profit in the past but for the learning. Anguishing over past events is pointless; learn from the past and move on. As the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam tells us, “The Moving Finger writes; and having writ, moves on: nor all your piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all your tears wash out a word of it.” It’s okay to look back, but only with an eye toward moving forward.
Finally, focus on possibilities, not limitations. As I pointed out in an earlier column, this shift in orientation can bring about major improvements in well-being. The shift can also build your persistence. Allow me to leave you with one last quote, this one from Musonius Rufus, another Roman Stoic, and Epictetus’s teacher, “If one accomplishes some good with toil, the toil passes, but the good remains …” Keep this in mind when facing difficulties. In the end, the good you do will remain, despite the difficulties. FBN
By Craig Van Slyke, Ph.D.
The W.A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University is home to over 3,000 undergraduate and Master’s students. The College’s faculty and staff are dedicated to the success of its students and the economic development of the region. For more information on The W.A. Franke College of Business, please see: http://www.franke.nau.edu/. I welcome comments and feedback on these columns. Email your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow me on Twitter @cvanslyke.