An apparent weakness in ability may be overcome with deliberate effort and/or by learning new skills. I have seen many young people who feel they have a weakness holding them back or preventing them from overcoming an obstacle discover that the weakness actually represents the need to work harder or smarter.

Work Hard and Work Smart

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I can use myself as an example. My first year in college was nearly my last year in college. I had sailed through high school with success and naturally assumed I would succeed in college. However, I got a “D” in chemistry my first semester. This was difficult for me given my experience in high school, and I nearly dropped out of college. I assumed that a weakness of mine was the inability to succeed in college.

Fortunately, I decided to try again. I took the course over and got an “A”, and I took the second chemistry course and got an “A.” I went on to get an “A” in physical chemistry in graduate school. This course was arguably the hardest course I ever took, but I got an “A.” The point is I had to change my study habits and work ethic, and I had to learn how to manage my time. I had the potential, but I had to work harder and smarter to realize it.

My “weakness” was not my perceived lack of ability. Basically, I had to grow up and learn to apply myself to my course work. I also needed to improve my note-taking and study skills. Given that I was able to succeed by retaking the course and also by doing well in subsequent courses, I learned a valuable lesson: College was not easy, but I could handle it if I worked harder and smarter. This concept applies to life in general.

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Don’t underestimate the need to work smarter as well as harder. You must learn new skills to conquer new challenges. In the chemistry class example, I needed to develop better skills in note-taking, studying, and time management. Working hard is crucial but is often not enough. If you don’t realize this fact, you may work harder but not get the results you want, which can lead to frustration and cause you to give up.

You undoubtedly will encounter new challenges as you progress into new phases of your life. Once you know yourself and understand your abilities, you will be ready to conquer increasingly difficult challenges. I have heard it said that difficult challenges don’t bother us nearly as much as do unexpected difficult challenges. So don’t be surprised by difficult challenges in life, but develop the attitude to work harder and smarter until you overcome the challenges.

What if you are working harder and smarter but still struggle? This situation results in frustration, disappointment, self-doubt, and likely represents effort in a non-strength area.

As an example, in my career I have taught and mentored many students who wanted to go to veterinary school. However, the admission requirements for veterinary schools are quite high. Thus, the stark reality is that some students who intensely want to get into a veterinary school lack the grades to get admitted. Although very disappointing, this reality requires students to change their plans and seek another career. Initially, many students see this as a failure. However, in reality, this is not a failure. Rather, it reflects the need to find another career that plays to the student’s strengths.98469_Green_cvr_B

I have seen several students go on to have successful careers in other fields. The point is this: We each have strengths and abilities in some areas, but not in all areas. If you find yourself struggling, despite your very best effort, assess your options and move in a different direction. To help you evaluate your options, talk to your mentor or your school counselor.

From Leadership and Soft Skills for Students: Empowered to Succeed in High School, College, and Beyond by Cary J. Green, PhD. Copyright 2015 by Cary J. Green. Published by Dog Ear Publishing. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Cary GreenCary J. Green, PhD, has been an educator and mentor to young people for more than twenty years, and has held academic leadership positions for more than ten years. Now a full-time author, speaker, and academic/life-skills coach, Green has taught undergraduate and graduate students at three different universities. He has taught leadership and academic success classes, and has provided countless hours of mentoring on academic success, leadership, soft skills, and career navigation. Green has received numerous awards and honors for teaching and mentoring. Although he has enjoyed success as a researcher, educator, and leader in higher education, his true professional passion is mentoring young people on the development of leadership and soft skills that empower them to succeed.

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