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.


Springboard into Success

In December 2014, I attended the Price Waterhouse Cooper, Knowledge@Wharton High School Seminar for High School Educators on Business and Financial Responsibility. The seminar was as rich in information as the title is long in words. Of the amazing information I received, I attended a session titled “Defining Success: Helping Your Students Navigate Their Future” by Wharton professor and award-winning author G. Richard Shell. His presentation was very engaging, but I thought the emotion tied to his message might fade. You know the feeling- you leave from a seminar presentation alive with ideas, but after returning to work and life for a few days, the message fades. Dr. Shell’s message remains with me still.

Dr. Shell encouraged us, as teachers, to define our own success, and he suggested we avoid following a path of success defined by others. Teachers, he has found, often get into their profession for very virtuous, fulfilling reasons, but some feel the pressure to promote themselves away from what makes them happy. Some pursue careers “up the ladder” toward administration though their heart remains in the classroom. I thought about that message for some time. After receiving my doctorate in education two years ago, I was flooded new paths to pursue. However, when I consider new paths now, I keep coming back to Dr. Shell’s advice; do not promote yourself away from your happiness. I define happiness in two ways: First, being a present, aware father and husband. Second, being a present, aware, and dedicated classroom teacher. While my definition of happiness may change, I am not willing to sacrifice my current happiness for someone else’s definition of success.

Dr. Shell gave each participant in the seminar two copies of his book, Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for SUCCESS. I generally avoid books about success. I often wonder why authors write about success; if they define success by telling others about success, I am not sure I want to subscribe to their message. But, Dr. Shell’s message was so compelling in December 2014, I started reading his book on train ride home from the seminar. For the remainder of this (just ended) school year, his book stayed on my nightstand. I found his book easy to read and very thought-provoking. I enjoyed reading small sections before bedtime and reflecting about success and its fit in my life. Finally finishing his book (the school year just ended), I can say confidently what I felt from the beginning; I am very happy exactly where I am. I will not do anything to promote myself beyond my happiness.

I am blessed to teach in my dream job, as a teacher at the Downingtown STEM Academy. Our students and teachers continually receive recognition for their amazing work. After reading Dr. Shell’s book, though, I realize my mission might be different. Dr. Shell teaches a success course with students at University of Pennsylvania. He helps them recognize they can define their own happiness and then pursue a path toward it. My school is filled with students with a passionate drive toward success, but I do not know if they understand the path they pursue. Are they on their own path or one ascribed to them by someone else? I would like to offer a year-long success program in my school, following a model described in Dr. Shell’s book. Yes, many of the students in my school are very talented, but I am not sure they know what this success means for them or the community around them. Such an enlightened understanding of their path toward their individual success would be very beneficial to my students.

I strongly encourage you pick up a copy of Dr. Shell’s book, Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for SUCCESS. Reflect on its message and let it inspire you to define and pursue your own path to success. How do you define success? What can you do now to find success? How will it change who you are and who you will become?

DASD STEM Academy Applications

Future students, today at our faculty meeting, Headmaster Campbell announced acceptance notifications were being sent (or called, I cannot remember which) for the 225 or so of you who will be offered a position at the Downingtown STEM Academy as freshmen for the 2013-2014 school year.

To those of you who get offered a position, congratulations. This post is not for you, however. This post is for those of you who will not be accepted. By Headmaster Campbell’s announcement, fewer than half of the applicants will receive acceptance notification. If you do not receive acceptance, please understand this does not shut doors for your future.

Acceptance into a group should never define who you are. Ambition, drive, and effort will make you successful in your life. These qualities will guide you at either Downingtown East or Downingtown West. Do not let a failed experience set you back. Let it embolden you. Let your actions, your efforts, and your triumphs characterize who you are. These qualities will lead you to success.

This summer I applied for the Google Teacher Academy, and I was rejected. After reflecting over my disappointment, I came to the following conclusions. If you are upset, I hope you find some comfort in the words below.

I went through the “I can’t believe they didn’t pick me” angst and quickly into the “They don’t know what they are missing” phase.  Then I realized I was silly.  I only applied on a whim, and I knew I wasn’t a great fit.

Then the life lesson kicked in.


You cannot define yourself by the rejections you receive.  You cannot let a failed attempt keep you from your success.  Whether it’s a GTANY application, a job interview, or a college application, your success should not be defined by another person or organization’s evaluation of your talent, often from a very brief application.  Take the knock to your pride and move on.  As leaders, you need to move beyond small setbacks to achieve even greater success.

What defines your success?  Professionally, I define my success by how many teachers I help understand and implement new educational technologies.  Personally, if my family is safe, secure, and happy, I’ve been successful.  Google, nor any other organization, will not define my success in either arena.

Whatever you do in life, do not let another person or group’s definition of success limit your aspirations. Define success on your own terms. Fulfill your own dreams. Work hard. These traits will yield success in any endeavor.