How often have people told you that you achieve a lot in your hobby or job because you’re talented? I wince when I hear that. Calling someone “simply talented” is an easy way of justifying our own lack of achievement in a particular field. Positive psychologist Martin Seligman has captured the essence of achievement much more accurately with this simple equation:
It means that if you have more skill, you can put in less effort. But even if you have less skill you can still outperform others by putting in more time and effort. All skills are learnable, and how much time and effort we spend on a particular task is our own personal decision. This means that we can accomplish anything we like, and that achievement comes from grit—which means persevering in the face of obstacles, and never taking no for an answer.
The story of Eric is a prime example of how far grit can take you.
Eric claims he is a high-schooler who doesn’t do a whole lot, but my short conversation with him quickly showed it to be otherwise.
The element of grit
Eric is not what teachers would unanimously call an outstanding student. His grades normally oscillate between Bs and Ds, and he recently failed his Spanish class. At the same time though, once a topic catches his fancy he is ready to devote time and energy to pursuing it. Such was the case with science and engineering —both topics that allowed Eric to demonstrate his unique strengths: his visual memory and his hands-on work. Passion and hard work made him a champion in this field and led him to win several academic competitions.
You don’t have to be good at everything. Work on topics that allow you to exercise your unique strengths.
The element of passion
Interested in hearing of his progress in science and engineering, I assumed that this was what he wanted to pursue at college. But no. I learned instead about his other passion: animation. Now, I know what you’re thinking—here comes another anime freak. This is not the case. Eric has been actively cultivating his skill for years, having taken courses in animation and making sketches whenever possible to improve his art.
If you have passion, you spend every spare moment improving your skill.
It was through his dedication to animation that Eric came across anime, while searching for employment possibilities. “I love watching anime, the drawings are so well pieced together”, he says. He considered employment possibilities in Japan, but was discouraged.
“I had the mindset it wouldn’t be possible for me to work in Japan, because I wouldn’t be able to learn Japanese. I was really upset with that.”
How Eric got three NO’s for Japanese
Japanese was not for Eric. With the thought of learning Japanese for the purpose of a future animation job, he told his family: he wanted to be an exchange student in Japan. That would have meant learning basic Japanese.
“The day I told my family I was planning to learn Japanese, they laughed. ‘You have fun with that’, they said.” To Eric’s family, Japanese was the hardest language of all for a native English speaker—it would be impossible for him to grasp, they thought.
Eric’s previous experience with foreign languages was not encouraging either. Having to fill in gaps in his class schedule, he took Spanish at school. From his description, the class sounded like the epitome of boredom with slow-paced lectures, no group work, no speaking practice in class, and grammar worksheets as homework. That could really discourage anyone from pursuing foreign languages.
Being stubborn, though, Eric was still the best in class. But, he says that the teaching was a failure: “even after a whole year, the students were still unable to speak any Spanish”. Yet, to pass the exam, they were required to prepare a spoken presentation. Eric failed his.
Like many self-learners just starting out, Eric began to explore teaching tools and started a trial with Rosetta Stone. For three days he followed through with the classes, looking at the pictures and taking the tests.
Aware that one can’t fully judge a product based on the trial, Eric says he did expect that the trial would demonstrate the best of what the program was capable of. The method was clearly not for him, however:
“I’d go on to the next lesson and forget everything from the previous one. The classes were teaching the language but I wasn’t learning. It was rather depressing—another proof for me that I couldn’t really learn Japanese.”
In the end he abandoned the program. “I wouldn’t want to pay for a tool that doesn’t work.”
Turning three NOs into a YES
Now, be honest with yourself; when your family laughs at you, your school record proves you don’t do well with languages, and you can’t even learn with the most popular program for teaching Japanese, you’d soon drop the cause, wouldn’t you? Not if you had Eric’s stubbornness and grit.
Rather than despairing over the Spanish class and the rest, however; Eric turned his defeat into a lesson about motivation in learning.
“If I had to return to Spanish, I would need an important goal in order to progress. Learning ‘just to pass’ was not, and would not be enough—I’d need a serious reason.”
It may also come as a surprise that rather than discouraging him, Eric’s family approach activated extra reserves of grit—he thought “I’m better that what they think. I can learn Japanese!”
Likewise, his failure with Rosetta Stone was not a drawback but a push to look for other resources, that would fit his learning style better.
In comes LinguaLift
Eric didn’t abandon his pursuit and, like many users, started a trial with LinguaLift with a view to getting the most from the program during the free-trial period.
He quickly got hooked, and with characteristic stubbornness and grit, managed to learn two alphabets in a weekend using our software. Admittedly, the fact it was the holiday period helped, he says— there were no distractions and he raced through the textbook reading two or three chapters a day. “I guess those chapters were meant to be around 14 lessons each. I was completing 20 lessons a day!” This experience gave Eric a boost of confidence, helping him to complete the whole course in two weeks. He felt driven to finish the book, he explains.
LinguaLift gave Eric what the Spanish class didn’t—personal attention from a teacher. He admits he rarely had tough problems, but adds that the freedom to ask about anything he had doubts about gave him peace of mind.
“In a 30-person Spanish class it was hard to ask the teacher questions; after class everybody was after him, whereas his tutor Chikako at LinguaLift, would always reply with really in-depth answers and provide resources at the same time. It was really awesome.”
There’s no such thing as a setback
Throughout his studies Eric burned through a whole notebook, but the process was not free of problems. His family was still sceptical. When he told them about LinguaLift, the response was: “Even if you do get private school treatment, there’s no guarantee you can learn.”
He was about to prove them wrong.
“I’m a bit impulsive and tend to get burned out after three days”, Eric told me. It made me wonder how he’d managed to keep up the pace of learning for a full two weeks.
Goal setting played a large part in Eric’s approach. With over-ambitious objectives it would be hard to see progress. Following the advice of his language coach at LinguaLift, he divided his study goals into small milestones.
“Every time I reached a milestone I felt upbeat and was ready to keep going. It’s only hard to continue when you don’t see any achievement.“
LinguaLift taught Eric applicable skills
The progress Eric made with LinguaLift was in stark contrast with his experience using Rosetta Stone “Where Rosetta Stone would teach me how to say “apple”, LinguaLift would teach me how to put together sentences.”
Quick acquisition of real-life communication skills gave him the confidence to seek a pen pal and test his Japanese skills. He composed the first message and immediately after hitting ‘send’, realised the grammar was off (haven’t we all had this experience?). In spite of that “my pen pal understood what I was saying. It was exhilarating!”
How did he do it?
According to our study data, Eric completed 126 study sessions in 14 days. How did he really do it?
In retrospect, Eric had all the characteristics that make a good student: motivation to get a dream job in Japan, interest, devotion and perseverance. In addition, he had the right approach to learning: rather than dwelling on setbacks he used them as springboards to improve himself. Until he started with LinguaLift, he didn’t know how to capitalise on these assets.
“Everybody was always telling me I was gifted and only needed to put my mind to things. I’d never found language courses relevant until the experience with LinguaLift.”
On his way to Japan
Needless to add, Eric’s family isn’t laughing at his idea of him becoming an exchange student anymore. He is confident, not only that he can learn languages, but also that he can do so on his own. With the rich folder of materials he collected during his experience with LinguaLift, we’re sure he can reach his goal.
“LinguaLift got me from the point where I felt hopeless about the language to the feeling I could master it.”
Eric had often heard people say that he was talented. It annoyed him. But his experience with Japanese LinguaLift demonstrated how Seligman’s equation really does define achievement. Once we capitalise on our strengths, we have all the power to maximise our performance.
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