The Key to Success

Dear Jalen,

Today I want to take a time out from our chronological story to share with you a video I had come across on another blog written by RemedialProf. The video is a speech given by Angela Lee Duckworth and it conveys a message that I hope to teach you over the years as we grow together. The speech is titled The Key to Success? Grit This message resonates deeply with me and reminds me of a conversation that changed my life.

Growing up, I didn’t feel very intelligent. No one in my family had graduated from college and it didn’t seem to be anything that was expected of me. Education was not something that was emphasized much in my family and my grades were sub par in high school. In fact, my high school guidance counselor told me that I wasn’t “college material”. This wasn’t spoken as a means of motivating me to prove her wrong, she truly meant it.

When I was 17 I had a doctor appointment and in small talk the doctor asked what I was going to do after high school. I told him I didn’t know. He then suggested why not go to college to be a doctor like him? I thought he was crazy for even suggesting it. I told him I wasn’t smart enough to do that. He then stopped everything he was doing and looked straight at me and he very seriously told me the words that changed everything for me. He said,

“Let me tell you something, you don’t have to be smart to be a doctor. You just have to be persistent.”

Over the past 20+ years I’ve often thought back to him and I wish I could remember his name so that I could personally thank him. I was told by an “expert” that I wasn’t college material and I did not have any reason to believe that I could possibly graduate from college. I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t believe I was intelligent enough to succeed. Yet, I truly didn’t know what else to do. But because of that doctor, I had the courage to enroll in college. I didn’t have great grades, When I enrolled, I didn’t believe I had the intelligence to graduate but I did believe persistence was something I could do.

I was accepted into college but I scared. I felt completely out of place and often questioned to myself what I was doing there. To cope, I began breaking down anything that seemed daunting and approached each individually as small steps that I had my entire life to achieve. For instance, I didn’t think I could pass the required math course the semester I enrolled for it. But I didn’t focus on the course as a whole. I focused only on the one assignment that was due first. While I didn’t believe I could pass that particular course, I did think that I could pass the one assignment and maybe the next and maybe the next if I was persistent enough. Viewing each assignment individually didn’t seem so overwhelming. I used this approach for each task and sure enough the sum of each individual achievement got me through the class and then I would start over again with the next seemingly impossible course.What I discovered was that when I applied myself and when I was persistent, I could achieve things I never believed possible. With each individual achievement came new found confidence in myself.

“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” ~ Jim Rohn

I became the first in my family to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree. I then began to dream bigger. If I could graduate with a Bachelor’s degree, I wonder if I could earn a Master’s degree? For the longest time I had convinced myself that I shouldn’t press my “luck” but the question “What if?” remained. 10 years later I gave in to the “What if?” and I enrolled in a Mental Health Counseling program. Once again, I felt like I was in over my head. Not only was I was working full-time when I enrolled, I became pregnant with you and began learning how to be a mama. It wasn’t easy juggling work, a marriage, becoming a new parent and the seemingly endless assignments. Yet, despite all of this, I persisted. I had grit. I graduated with a Master’s Degree in September 2014.

Jalen, I tell you all of this because it’s important to me that you never stop dreaming big. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do. Sometimes even the “experts” are wrong, get a second opinion. And then get a third opinion or better yet don’t even ask them, find out the answer for yourself. Education is important but it isn’t only gained in a classroom. Education is everywhere and I encourage you to never stop learning. No one test can measure your intelligence.There are many forms of intelligence and not all are represented in a typical classroom. How well you score on an important exam isn’t necessarily an indication of your future success.  Academic tests are limited.They don’t measure your character, your creativity, your compassion for others, your persistence or your grit.






19 thoughts on “The Key to Success”

      1. Mom didn’t even tell her until few years later cause she didn’t believe it. When sister finally found out, she did even better :). Going for masters in economy now. I don’t know why school has any say in this matter – if they say you’re slow, they can do a lot of damage, and saying you’re smart doesn’t provide any real effects.


      2. My thoughts EXACTLY! It’s crazy! I don’t understand it at all. Remarks like this can be so influential, especially when we’re young. I’m rooting for your sister, go get ’em girl! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I love this! First of all, congrats on your academic accomplishments–it really DOES take a lot to survive a BA and MA. That’s super. I’m so glad you didn’t believe the people saying “you can’t.” A social worker told me that we shouldn’t expect a lot out of our kids because of their birth parents’ IQs. That was totally false. GRIT–absolutely.
    Also love the Einstein quote. That’s one reason my friend decided to home school their special needs son; not surprisingly, he’s a whole lot less “special needs” than the public school thought he was, and he’s thriving. (Not saying home schooling is for everyone…it’s not for us…but sometimes I do feel they’re trying to get my fish to climb and my monkey to swim). 🙂


  2. Very inspiring. And I love the letter format you use. Perseverance cannot be underrated. My daughter received an award for it in elementary school one year and I often remind her of that, and that perseverance alone can often be the key ingredient to success.


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