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September 08, 2009

Obama to School Kids: Success Requires Hard Work

As I watched President Obama address our nation’s school kids today, one piece of advice stood out: “No one’s born being good at things you become good at things through hard work.”

I’ve been working really hard with my daughters to help them learn this lesson. As President Obama said, “If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.”

This attitude is what Stanford researcher Dr. Carol Dweck describes as “growth mentality.” Her research has shown that students do much better when they believe that doing well is a function of hard work as opposed to innate talent.

Parents, too, have a responsibility in keeping their children on track. In that spirit, I hope that parents use the opportunity to reinforce the messages that their kids heard today. Tonight, try asking this question to your child. “Do you think some people are just smarter than others or do you think people get smart because they work hard?” Listen to the answer and consider how you can talk with your child to help him or her understand how critical hard work is.

I know a university student in China. She’s a senior at one of the nation’s most prestigious universities and I know that she’s gotten there through a lot of hard work. I recently asked her: “Why do you work so hard?”

“Because I want China to be strong and prosperous,” she responded. She saw a direct connection between her work in school and the future of her nation.

We Americans are typically motivated more by self-interest and our desire to contribute to our family and community than by our desire to make the nation prosperous. The task for us parents is to help our children see the link between the hard work today and their opportunity to pursue their dreams tomorrow.

When I ask my nine year-old daughter “Why do you work hard?” I hope she’ll respond: “Because when I grow up I want to be able to do lots of things for myself and the world. Maybe I’ll want to invent something new like a medicine that saves people. Or maybe I can make a car that doesn’t pollute. Or maybe I can help homeless people. And I want to make money and enjoy knowing lots of things.”

Thanks, President Obama, for carrying this message to America’s schoolchildren. We parents are listening, too.

Read the President’s remarks. (Also posted at The Huffington Post.)

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