Some of you will have seen from my social posts this week that I’ve started wearing a new necklace. That necklace is a key which has the word strength etched into it. Why? Because strength is the one character attribute that I feel I need more than any other in my life these days. Not just me though. Strength is an attribute that we should all aspire to demonstrate in our life.
What is strength though, and what difference does it make? If someone was described to you as strong, likelihood is you begin to picture someone with big muscles, someone who participates in a lot of sport, maybe the gym-goer type. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all.
But increasingly the word strong is being used to describe someone’s character, and their mental state. I can’t think of a greater word. If the definition of strong is something that can ‘withstand force, pressure or wear’ than to be strong is to withstand the pressure, or the barrage of challenges, that life throws at you. To keep on going despite the force that is pushing you down.
At the school I work at this is a characteristic we advocate. We encourage our pupils to be resilient children. Resilience is, in essence, a more character-based word for strong, and I love it’s definition!:
1) the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties
2) the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape
I think that imagery is great! Because withstanding pressure doesn’t mean that we don’t take knocks along the way. Those knocks are the challenges life throws at us and can be anything from the health issues that seem to attack me and wear me down, to financial worries, employment struggles, bereavement, and much more beside. Even titanium scratches under pressure. But what makes a truly ‘strong’ person is someone who springs back into shape! Someone who doesn’t allow those challenges to keep them down forever; someone who ultimately withstands the pressure.
A few years ago I came across a TED Talk by a former teacher and psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth about ‘grit’, and I was then lucky enough to see her lead a seminar on this topic at BETT just a couple of years ago. Duckworth describes ‘Grit’ as ‘passion and perseverance for very long term goals’. Again we come across this same theme – perseverance is defined as ‘persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success’. What is significant about this is that Duckworth looked into this in great detail in schools, businesses, and army training camps. And in every situation she found that grit, this desire to push towards long term goals whatever challenges you come across, was a ‘signicificant predictor of success’ – more so than financial starting points, IQ levels and more.
And so whatever word you use: strength, resilience, grit or perseverance there is no doubt that this is an attribute that we should all desire. The ability to keep going, to withstand challenges, to spring back into shape. An attribute that can make a huge difference in life.
But how do we become strong people? I’m not sure there is a definitive answer. For some it comes naturally, for others it’s a struggle. In her TED talk Duckworth even confesses she doesn’t have all the answers as to how we teach grit.
I want to suggest just 2 small things that are starting blocks for me:
1) We talk about it, a lot.
Over the last few years these ideas of grit, resilience, or perseverance have become commonplace to many. The fact that resilience is a word that rolls off the tongue of primary school children is evidence of that. And this is key. If we develop a culture where this terminology is commonplace it can make all the difference. If we regularly discuss the importance of perseverance over failure we can encourage a culture where people gravitate towards dusting themselves off and going again.
2. We encourage aspiration and think long term
In my last blog I talked about the importance of aspiration, and I don’t want to repeat this material, but I do believe developing long term goals is a key factor in being strong. Duckworth hints at this in her previous description of grit, and it’s a sentiment I would echo. It’s easier to get back up, to keep going, when you have your eyes on a long term goal that could still happen. Despair, and a lack of desire to keep going, creep in when your only focus is on short term goals that evaporate.
To conclude, I wish that our personalities could be like titanium, one of the strongest metals around. Pretty much impossible to break. Experience tells me it’s not that easy. Personally I break all too easily. All too often I find the barrage of pressure I am under is too much. But I know that I want to be strong. I desire more strength. I desire the ability to not let all the rubbish going on in my life affect me.
So I’ll wear my word, strength, around my neck every day. I’ll talk about strength, resilience, grit or perseverance when I can. I’ll take the opportunity to commend and compliment others when I see those characteristics in them. And I’ll continue to try and withstand the challenges thrown at me, think long term, and hope one day I’ll feel like strength is a word that lives round my neck, because I’ve earned the medal.
1. My new necklace is purchased from a US company called The Giving Keys. They are a social impact company who support people transitioning out of homelessness by providing employment opportunities. The words printed on their keys (of which strength is just one) are a reminder that, like the keys, we’re all unique, one-of-a-kind, and sometimes we need a reminder of that inspiring word that keeps us going. You can read more about their work, and purchase your own key, here
2. Grit: The power of passion and perseverance is a TED talk given by Angela Lee Duckworth, which I’ve embedded below for your viewing. If you want to explore the topic more than the book of the same title is available to purchase here