The value of perseverance

Abraham Lincoln is generally regarded as one of the most revered Presidents in the history of the United States. There is an imposing monument dedicated to Lincoln in Washington DC. Success, however, is something Lincoln achieved late in life. 

As a young Lincoln, he drifted through his teen years and then into his 20s. When he hit 31, he thought, “I’d better get myself going and do something?” He formed a partnership, and went into business, but in 18 months was bankrupt. Then he decided that since he was broke anyway, he’d go into politics. At his first election he lost badly. Two years later, aged 34, he went back into business but bankruptcy again followed. A year later he thought things were improving when he met and fell in love with a lovely woman. She died. At 36 he suffered a nervous breakdown and was confined to bed for six months. He recovered, went back into politics for another local government post. He lost again. He started another business with a little more success. At 43, he decided to run for US Congress. He lost. At 46, he ran for Congress again and lost again. At 48, he ran for the Senate and lost that as well. When he was 55, he tried for his Party’s nomination for Vice President. He was badly defeated. At age 58, he ran for the Senate again and again he lost. Finally at 60 years of age, Abraham Lincoln was elected to his first public office – President of the United States of America. Lincoln’s journey is an unbelievable story of tenacity. Failing is confronting, especially when a person is trying their hardest to achieve something or improve in a certain area. Sadly, failing is such a huge concern for some people that they end up not even trying, so worried are they that putting themselves out there will end in disappointment and ridicule.

In many ways it is understandable to someone who does try, but fails, to want to give up. It is important, however, that the students at our College believe perseverance and consistent efforts will eventually pay off. John Eales, World Cup winning Wallaby Captain, once said, ‘all endeavour appears as if it is a failure somewhere in the middle.’ I have heard John Eales speak of the challenges he faced whenever he tried something new and he acknowledged in almost every occasion there were times when he just wanted to pack it in and call it a day. Imagine if he had given up!

For many students, end-of-semester tests and exams are approaching once again. Success will very much depend on the ongoing commitment to class and home study rather than the last minute sprint to revise work a week out from examinations. Study programs are about having stamina, day in day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years and working really hard to make the future a reality. It is a marathon, not a sprint.

Parents often ask what they need to do to teach their son a solid work ethic and how to keep him motivated for the long run. It is a hard question to answer; I believe the work done by Carol Dweck, from Stanford University, on growth mindset has some validity. She argues that intelligence and the ability to learn is not fixed and students must believe their efforts and commitment will bring understanding. With such a belief, Dweck maintains students are more likely to persevere when they fail because they do not believe that failure is a permanent condition; Lincoln certainly did not!  

With regard to the fast approaching examinations, it is critical boys are aware of the format and content to be examined. Completion of past papers should be attempted under examination conditions. Summary notes should be written well before the examination and a disciplined revision program must be established at home.

Matthew Hutchison