Even though we’re about midway through the academic year, I happened to see Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech online, and it inspired me to think about what an ideal talk to a graduating class should be. “The only way to do great work is to love what you do,” Jobs famously told the new grads. “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
His speech was moving, but it was also direct. As a leader, it’s about imparting tough love, the kind of love that’s no-nonsense, gritty, and real.
Many times people who love you don’t have those difficult, tough-love conversations because their instinct is to protect, comfort and shield you from all the bad things about the world; they only want you to see what’s shiny and good.
Tough love will help you recognize that life isn’t easy, and tough love implores you to learn those difficult lessons all on your own.
Here’s a scenario: You’re sitting in your backyard one afternoon. Suddenly, you spot a butterfly attempting to break free from its chrysalis – that hard shell formed during its metamorphosis. The struggle is difficult for you to watch, and your instinct is to help the creature out. So, you get some scissors from the kitchen and cut the chrysalis, allowing the butterfly to emerge into the world.
You wait for the butterfly, still shriveled up and weak, to flap its wings and fly away. But it never does. Instead, it just walks on the ground, and that’s where it will remain, if it even survives as all.
What the metamorphosis of a butterfly teaches us is that struggle is necessary for survival. As the butterfly pushes through a small opening at the bottom of the chrysalis, the fluid from its body is sent to the wings, making the butterfly’s wings strong enough to support its eventual flight.
This is the tough-love lesson those students – and all of us – need to hear when times get challenging. It’s the hard that makes us great. Just like the butterfly must fight against its cocoon to develop wings solid enough to fly, so too do people need to experience adversity to grow strong enough to overcome it. Remember, it is not what struggles happen during our lives that determine how well we’ve lived. It is what we choose to do next during those unexpected times of struggle that defines our character and determines our happiness.
In other words, we must develop grit. In author Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed, the journalist says that using IQ and academic success as a predictor of future accomplishment is wrong. Through exhaustive research, he discovers that noncognitive skills like gratitude, optimism, curiosity, and grit are far better predictors of high achievement.
So, what’s the message? When it comes to success, it doesn’t really matter what other people say, or even how they perceive you. It doesn’t matter what talent you’re born with or what skills you acquire early in your career. It doesn’t even matter whether the economy is strong or weak, or what the market is doing today and where it’s going tomorrow. What matters is that you understand there’s no substitute for hard work. As the saying goes, if you’re interested in being successful, you’ll do what’s convenient, but if you’re committed to being successful, you’ll do whatever it takes. Basketball coach Tim Notke said, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” Your competition may have more innate talent than you do, but tell yourself they’ll never outwork you. That’s tough love. That’s the chrysalis you’ll have to break on your own. Because in the end, the only one who can determine how high you’ll really fly is you.
This article is adapted from Blefari’s weekly, company-wide “Thoughts on Leadership” column from HomeServices of America.