Can we become resilient without enduring and overcoming adversity?

Recently, I viewed a TED Talk from Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania, which I had viewed some years ago. Entitled, Grit: the power of passion and perseverance, Duckworth essentially argues that the ability to overcome adversity or failure is a better predictor of success in the workplace, higher education and relationships than IQ or talent.

It got me thinking again about the messaging of education in Australia, in particular, over the past decade. The availability of NAPLAN data, for example on the MySchool website, or league tables of ATAR results produced by newspapers really does focus the public’s attention on student achievement and allows parents, in particular, to compare the academic data of particular schools.

Whilst there are certainly some great benefits in being able to look at some comparative measures across schools, to me, it is a worrying trend.

If we are only looking at the ‘destination’ we may be overlooking or understating the importance of the ‘journey.’ 

This Seymour journey involves achievement in a vast array of endeavours – academic improvements in the classroom, beautiful musicianship, great victories on the sporting field, countless hours of selfless acts of service to others and inspirational acts of leadership or advocacy.

The ‘journey’ to the end of Junior School in Year 5, Middle School in Year 9 and Senior School in Year 12 is replete with great successes and triumphs that cannot be measured by a school’s median ATAR or NAPLAN score.

Importantly, behind every triumph is another set of stories; these are stories of failure, being wrong, making a bad choice, missing out on recognition, being overlooked, misunderstanding what was required.

Angela Duckworth reminds us that passion, perseverance and stamina – a relentless focus on the future – is actually one of the most important skills we can promote. If we know this is important, then the next question is: why should we step in to prevent our girls from failing, from being wrong, from missing out, from being overlooked?

If we know that some metaphorical ‘scar tissue, bumps or bruises’ can actually build motivation and grit in our girls, perhaps we should be less worried about stepping in to prevent them occurring.

If she received a C+ on the assignment because it was hard, the format was unfamiliar and because she left her preparation to the last minute, perhaps it is the case that she deserved the C+ and that a C+ in that context is actually not a bad result? 

What she might tuck away for next time is that unfamiliar, complex problems will be part of life and that sustained effort and preparation may yield a better result. Most important of all is that willing something to be the case does not make it so.

Similarly, if she didn’t make the A sporting team or premier music ensemble this year, it may just mean that others who are also talented and hard-working, were slightly ahead on some criteria. Next season or next year might be her chance, but it doesn’t mean that she is destined to never make it. Grit is unrelated to talent, according to Duckworth’s research. Failure is not a permanent position.

A terrific formula for ultimate success in school, in higher education, in the workplace could be as simple as:

Ability and Talent + Emotional Intelligence + Grit = Success

The disposition that failing sometimes is okay, that disappointment is a regular phenomenon in our lives and that we are responsible for our own destiny, is without doubt something worth reinforcing with our girls.

The journey which involves all of the setbacks, triumphs, hardships and successes, is absolutely always more important than the destination.

Dan Walker

Deputy Principal

GIRLbeing Resilient Attitude