College is a challenge for most of us. It’s fantastic when everything goes right; a nightmare when things go wrong.
We usually don't plan for things to go wrong when we enroll in an academic program, but we can’t predict when life will throw us a curve either.
Unexpected derailment … it happens every day. Miss one assignment, then two, then miss a class, and before you know it you've lost your focus and off the rails. Catching up seems impossible.
How do some students seem to take these daily challenges in stride, quickly dealing with them and catching up with the class? How do they break through the really big problems that cause the rest of us to lose our momentum and get trapped in a fog of uncertainty?
Something we see over and over again in the most successful students is persistence. They manage their external problems while staying in touch with what needs to be completed at school. Then they chip away at what they still need to do for the course. These students tend to not become flustered or get frustrated (even though they’re not always successful with that), and they stay focused on what they need to do.
How many of you came into your program with the intention of quitting the moment something went wrong? Some of you may have a personal goal to get your degree or certificate because you want to make a career change, or because you are looking for your first job, or because you want to get a better job, or because you have to increase your take-home pay. Most of you wouldn’t dream of quitting from the outset, so why would it be an option later on?
Our most successful students are not always the best students. Sometimes they are remembered because of the challenges they overcame. They teach us that we can all persist, if we want to deeply enough.
We recently had a student who was experiencing severe technical issues such that he could not see his assignments and was having trouble getting into his class. It took him four weeks before his computer and connectivity problems were overcome. But his desire was strong and he committed to his instructors, in his final week, that he'd catch up with the assignments and still finish everything that was required. He borrowed computers, went to a library to use their internet, worked with his classmates and the instructor, and did whatever it took. His result? Against all odds, he successfully caught up with his classmates and got back on track, impressively completing five weeks of work to finish the course with a passing grade. Amazing.
A second story stemmed from a much more serious circumstance in which a student suffered a tragic personal loss in his family and asked for two weeks away from the program to deal with the details. He committed to his instructor that he wanted to finish the course and stay with his classmates. Although we felt he needed more time away from school, his argument was convincing. His classmates rallied around him, and he came back in exactly two weeks, just as he said he would, completing every assignment by course end and finishing with a high grade. Remarkable.
These students’ strong commitment and their laser focus to manage the external challenges were keys to successfully completing their schoolwork. They chose to finish. They managed their situations, and they found a way to persist.
Can we all do that? Perhaps. Or, maybe we can only do it some of the time. We each have unique circumstances and challenges that impact our lives and our academic routines. Only we can determine what we can handle and what we cannot manage. It’s truly up to each of us to determine what we want to accomplish and what’s possible at that time. I have never met a student who said he did not want to be successful, who didn’t express what they wanted to be. Dreams rarely come true because we wish them; that’s just the starting block.
Persistence doesn’t happen because we say it will. It happens through choice and a commitment to act.
The next time life intrudes on your routine and distracts you, remember why you are here. Your reason and your goals … they will keep you on track. But persistence is what gets you back on track when life derails you ... and it's persistence that will carry you through to your final destination.
As the Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs at Bryan University, Gary Salazar has counseled and supported countless students on their way to academic and professional success. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.