The Journey, not the Destination

“If you start doing things for the sake of selling up front, for rewards, then it’s going to catch up with you. The other guys not chasing money are going to outdo you in the end, because real innovation and grit come from loving the process.”

Today my cousin’s son, Jacob, finds out the results of a summer’s worth of soccer practices; does he make the junior varsity team? He has been told by his team mates he was not good enough. He was told he wouldn’t make it. He practiced, suffered, endured, and improved in spite of their discouraging words. Jacob will make the team or not today, and in some cases it is not because he is the best on the field. Other factors, unfortunately, play into the decision. Not to disparage the coaches, but choosing the right players for a team must not be an easy feat. I do not envy the power to make a player’s year while crushing the spirits of another. Jacob, your work on the field is not about the reward of making the team. What you have learned about yourself and your family this summer as you struggled for something difficult- that process, that grit, that determination is your true reward. Regardless of the result, you are not truly measured by outward measured but by those inside.

Rodney Mullen’s quote above comes from a Wired Magazine article on Mullen by Brenden Koerner (@brendan-koerner). Brenden highlights Mullen’s innovation and grit in his desire to make himself better. Mullen noted that much of his truest lessons in life come from his failures, not from his success. Check out his Pop! Tech talk, Getting Back Up.

I recently have started taking students on international travel trips. When travelling with a group of thirty students something is bound to go wrong. You will make wrong turns; get pickpocketed; get nabbed 33 euro a head on the Paris subway (yup); get a terrible bus driver in Munich. But, in all these lesson, the final destination is not the goal. While frustrated beyond belief about some of the wrong turns and diversions on our most recent trip, I remembered to keep my cool. The journey was more important than the destination. If I was a sulky, mad, brooding tour leader, our trip would been miserable though all the destinations would have been the same.

Life is not about the destination but about the journey. Love the journey.

Life is wonderful when the journey leads you where you want to go. Often the unexpected twists and turns bring you to new valleys of opportunity not on you map. Remain open to all these new opportunities. Your life will be better because of them.

Best of luck, Jacob, and all those competing for a spot on a fall sports team. You will not be defined by the results this week; you are defined by how you handle the grit and determination on your journey.


Dweck, Dorfman, and Moyer: Achieving Personal Success

Effort. Grit. Determination. Tenacity. Work Ethic. Competitive spirit.

These qualities, above others, contribute to success in one’s lifetime. Having read Mindset by Carol Dweck as a book study the the inaugural year of the Downingtown STEM Academy (2010-11), I have thought a lot about how these characteristics determine success. I have enjoyed encouraging the growth of my students and my three boys using a growth mindset approach; I never say they are talented or gifted but rather that their success comes through hard work. Their daily practice and constant performance builds success, not sheer luck, “giftedness”, or inherent talent. No book has changed my life quite like Dweck’s book. It is an easy summer read and very important for educators, parents, and athletes alike.

A few years ago, I heard All-Star and World Series pitcher Jamie Moyer speak on NPR about his then-new book, Just Tell Me I Can’t. I was amazed how well his message of determination and hard work meshed with Dweck’s growth mindset, but I am also a bit biased. Moyer played for the Baltimore Orioles in the mid 1990s, when I was a teen enjoying the burgeoning successes of my favorite baseball team. In the late 1990s when Moyer pitched for the Seattle Mariners, I saw him again when the Mariners played the Orioles at Camden Yards. Moyer did not pitch that day, but he did help shag fly balls in the outfield during batting practice. I remember distinctly, standing in the right-center field seats at Camden Yards, and the fans were cheering loudly for Moyer. He turned, smiled, and acknowledged the fans, giving thanks for their support. He tossed many batting practice balls into the stands that evening before the game, a move not common for visiting baseball players. In 2005 I moved closer to Philadelphia, and soon Moyer followed when he was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies. I again enjoyed watching his dominating success as part of the Phillies success and World Series team in the mid 2000s. Perhaps I am biased because of my love of baseball and his contribution to two of my favorite teams, but I really enjoyed his book.

Now, I teach an hour outside of Philadelphia, at a school well-known for its continuing success. A school which encourages academic struggles and determination that leads to personal and school-wide success. Our motto, “Effort Creates Intelligence,” is a snapshot of our school culture. Reading Moyer’s book provided a real-world example of a growth mindset, or as my school distills, how effort leads to success. Moyer’s book is peppered with sports psychology and gems of advice both from Moyer and his mentor Harry Dorfman, who wrote many books about sports psychology, including The Mental Game of Baseball. Below are a brief overview of some of these gems.

“Failure is wanting without work.” -Harry Dorfman

“Believe it and you become it.” -Harry Dorfman

“Learn one thing a day, and learn it well. That gives you a chance to get better, because any problem can be solved. Any setback is temporary, and you can learn from it if you do the work.” -Jamie Moyer

“You can only control what you can control.” -Jamie Moyer (and surely Dorfman)

“Experience isn’t what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.” -Aldous Huxley

“When we fail to learn, we’ve learned to fail.” – Harry Dorfman 

Moyer’s book marks a practical example of Dweck’s growth mindset, Dorfman’s mental game of baseball, and precisely how to achieve success in your life, through hard work, dedicated practice, and constant, incremental improvement. Moyer’s example is a refreshing reminder that hard work pays off, and you can control your own destiny when others count you out.

Mindset by Carol Dweck

If you have not read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, you cannot understand how your view of your students affects their outcome. Published in 2007 by Ballantine Books, Dweck’s book remains a constant among teachers and their professional learning networks.

Dweck’s premise is simple.  Individuals either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.  Individuals with a fixed mindset believe “qualities are carved in stone,” and individuals in this mindset are always rushing to prove their qualities. In this mindset, individuals are believed to have gifts or talents that are unattainable by others.

A growth mindset, however, “is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.” Gifts or talents they have not received do not limit one’s true potential.  In this mindset effort is praised, not giftedness or talent.

From these two mindsets Dweck delves into what these two views mean for parents, teachers, corporate managers, professional athletes, artists, etc. Doing so, she fills her work with examples of individuals who she believes fit into either mindset, solidifying her description of both paradigms.

As a teacher, this book has changed how I give encouragement to students. Rather than glorifying great work or outcomes, I praise the effort to achieve the outcomes.  A fixed mindset only focuses on the outcome, and slowly the focus drifts to how special one is to have reached an outcome. The growth mindset praises the effort, opening the routes to success to all who work hard. In my classroom, I praise those who work to decode difficult texts and apply this knowledge to new situations. While I could praise the end result, this tends to create a fixed mindset in students; they might believe they are so special for having achieved a certain plateau. By praising the work, students remain focused on the effort applied to achieve the goal.

As a parent, I now take this approach with my sons. I encourage them to continue practicing their drawing, sports, schoolwork, singing, drama, etc. I try not to focus on the goals they scored, the picture they colored, or the song they completed. While they receive the hugs and accolades, I continually remind them of the hard work they put in to achieve those results. My son now reminds his younger brothers that with effort anything is possible.

Dweck’s book does become repetitive, as her mindsets are explained in different professions.  However, this also makes the book easier to read. You can pick and choose which chapters to read, knowing the ideas are very similar. Even without this structure, the book is a very easy read. While research studies are referenced throughout the book, these references to not block the flow of ideas with overly scholarly thought.

If your school uses Dweck’s book for a voluntary book study, do not pass by the opportunity to read a book that will change your view of how people achieve success.