Success Requires Effort, Resilience, and Persistence

I spent ten years teaching at the Simmons School of Management, and each August the new group of MBA students would take part in a week-long series of classes, discussions, and activities we called Foundations of Business. Most of the faculty made an appearance;  I usually led a case study discussion and also gave my recommendations for how to succeed in the program (and everywhere else, for that matter). My simple advice came from what I had learned as a teacher, my familiarity with some research on learning, and my own personal experience as a student. It boiled down to this: Success requires effort, persistence, and resilience:

success = ƒ(effort)(persistence)(resilience)

Effort: Students need to be prepared for class, complete assignments, seek help when they need it, and engage with their peers. They need to take responsibility for their learning and not expect instructors to do all the work.

Persistence: Each semester’s workload has periods of greater and lesser intensity, and earning a degree is a marathon, not a sprint.  Sustaining one’s effort, managing priorities to make the best use of time, and maintaining one’s health are vital to keeping at it until you achieve the results you want.

Know that if a test or a cold call doesn’t go well today, there’s always tomorrow and more chances to do better. Rather than dwell on perceived failures, learn from them and move on.

I think this equation for success holds true for all of us, especially those dealing with all kinds of change – and who isn’t? Leaders seeking to improve their organizations have to be involved by setting clear direction, communicating goals and modelling the behavior they want to see. According to Kanter‘s law of change, “everything looks like a failure in the middle.” The key to succeeding in the face of frustrations or difficulties is to acknowledge them and stay committed to the course despite them (assuming it’s an appropriate one, but that’s another matter) . Lastly, and related to these first two, you have to force yourself to keep trying even when you may feel disheartened and dejected. That of course is simple to say but harder to do. After all, genetics and brain chemistry shape psychological resilience. But  resilience is also a skill, which means it can learned and developed.

Note that any formula of this type oversimplifies the many factors that influence personal success outside of our own behavior. For example, it omits opportunity and resources. Nevertheless, I think it is a concise reminder of the things we can control and thus do to increase the likelihood of our success.

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