We have the privilege of seeing transformation as we work with students. Watching children go from reading fewer than ten words to reading fluently - how could we not be excited? The joy is not only in the end result, but in the process, especially when it doesn't come easily. It's in seeing the child try, and try, and try - and then finally getting it. The struggle, the perseverance, the overcoming - this makes the result even sweeter.
Over the years, I have noticed a change in my own thinking, placing less emphasis on natural talent, and having greater respect for sheer perseverance. Sometimes learning and success come easily, but at some point in life, it's not going to be easy. What then? I have tremendous respect for the adults in our programs who dare to undertake a new and sometimes uncomfortable adventure, when they could have continued with the status quo. They aren't letting age, lack of formal education in their youth, busy schedules, or other factors stop them.
Computer science professor Randy Pausch shared an unique perspective on challenges (what he called "brick walls") in his memoir, The Last Lecture: "Brick walls are there for a reason. They're not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something."
Talent vs. perseverance? In an ideal world, we'd get both, but nowadays what I emphasize with our students is perseverance.
In the margin of my Bible at the end of I Timothy 4, I find some hand-written notes from a sermon heard long ago: "Focus on growth, not on perfection." The apostle Paul was giving young Timothy instructions on how to live and grow in godliness. This is a process that takes training, discipline, and doggone perseverance.
My goal is to make it across the finish line in the spiritual journey. Not first place, not second. Just cross the finish line. A younger, more competitive me might have once scoffed at such a seemingly simple goal, but today, I see it is a fully sufficient and lofty enough goal.