How do you respond to adversity?

Last night, I observed a quarterfinal game in the state volleyball tournament.  Walker’s opponent lost the first two games and was on the brink of elimination.  Digging deep to find their poise, the opponent showed resiliency and determination in winning both the third and fourth games.  As the match headed to the fifth and final game, Walker found itself in a challenging position, having lost the last two games.  How would the Wolverines respond?

Dr. Carol Dweck, Stanford University Psychology professor, digs into the relationship between ability and achievement in her book, Mindset.  Dweck has discovered in more than twenty years of research that “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life…”  Dweck’s work highlights two mindsets, the fixed and the growth, which, while not absolute, tend to dominate our mental approach, effecting how we respond to adversity.

The fixed mindset is characterized by “believing your qualities are carved in stone, and creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over.”  In the world of fixed traits, “success is about proving you’re smart or more talented.” And if you’re not good at something, it is because you don’t have that particular talent.

The growth mindset is characterized by “the passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well.”  Legendary basketball coach John Wooden put it this way: “You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better.  By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.”  Dweck’s book highlights many examples of the growth mindset at work…  She points out that “when NASA solicited applications for astronauts, they rejected people with pure histories of success and instead selected people who had significant failures and had bounced back from them.”

So how did the Wolverines respond?  With determination, focus, and teamwork; the picture above highlights the final point in Walker’s victory.  How do you respond to adversity? It is one of life’s most important questions.  If we respond to adversity with a growth mindset, as Dweck concludes, “effort will ignite ability and turn it into accomplishment.”  A wise man once wrote that adversity produces perseverance; perseverance gives rise to character; and character conceives hope.  As educators and parents committed to giving Walker students the self-confidence they need to find success in school and beyond, we should welcome moments that generate perseverance, character and hope in our students and children.

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About Jack Hall

Jack Hall is the Head of School at The Walker School in Marietta, Georgia. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre at Davidson College and holds a Master of Science in Athletic Administration from Georgia State University and a Master of Arts in Education Administration from Columbia University where he was also a Klingenstein Fellow at Columbia University.

3 thoughts on “How do you respond to adversity?

  1. This is great Mr. Hall! As a parent of teenage boys, I suspect there are going to be many more times when we/they will need to show perseverance and that there are many character building experiences yet to come. We tend to be so protective of our children. Sometimes we have to let our kids experience and endure something for themselves, even if it may hurt a little, for them to understand the true meaning and see the bigger picture. Go Wolverines!

  2. I think we can expect some level of adversity to come up in almost everything we do. For me, being prepared for the unexpected and anticipating what could go awry is important. When things go wrong, learn from it for the next time. I had a boss once who stressed the 5 P’s – Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. I think that is a good rule to follow, whether in sports, life, or business. And finally for me is attitude. Attitude is a choice. Every time you walk up to the plate you have to believe you will hit the ball. You can’t worry about the fact that you struck out your last time up. Justinie Verlander of the Detroit TIgers said “You can never doubt yourself and your own ability. You have to play with confidence each and every time.”

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