Your Goal? Good Stories About Tough Times

Cover of "The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee:...

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Wendy Mogel, author of New York Times bestseller The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children was in the City this week. I caught her presentation at the Hamlin School along with a bevy of parents from various independent schools.

Mogel has great on-stage presence and funny charm, fitting for someone whose father published the National Lampoon. She also has some great insight, drawing upon her work as a clinical psychologist. The gist of her 60+ minute lecture was simple; be thoughtful about what you’re doing and realize that your role as a parent  (or a manager) is to help people develop the skills and abilities to succeed. Foremost on that list is perseverance – the ability to have stamina to work things out.

Your goal is not simply to make things always easy; that approach in fact does nothing to boost perseverance and grit, things that Angela Duckworth’s work at Penn with her Grit Study research tell you has a lot to do with business and personal success. While your goal is not to make things purposefully hard, the fact of life is that things are hard. People who learn how to work through those hard parts of life do better than people who don’t or won’t.

It’s a great lesson for those of us who are not only parents, but also in the business community. Too often we are quick to fix things that in retrospect disabled somebody’s ability to learn how to do them, or taught people the solution rather than helping them get the skills to try different strategies the next time.

My favorite line of the night was that part of living (and parenting) was persevering to overcome the day-to-day challenges that life dishes up; to learn, as Dr. Mogel added, “good stories about tough times.

Think about it. The main character in Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! doesn’t tell stories about soaring to great heights. No; the good, juicy stories are about surviving the Hakken-Kraks’ howl and being able to work through the Waiting Place.

When you think about your past my hunch is that the best of times may have contained elements of the toughest of times. Easy-peasy is simple, but not so good about generating life lessons or memorable stories.

Dr. Mogel’s right. Good stories require tough times. While I won’t go looking for those tough times, I know that life’s lessons-to-be learned are better appreciated in adversity than easy success.


Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.


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