Not Yet

In a TEDx talk, Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University described a high school in Chicago that does not give a failing grade when a student doesn’t pass a class. Instead they give a “Not Yet.” In Dr. Dweck’s words, “This shift from outcome to process implies eventual success, and in the meantime, focuses on effort, strategy, resilience, and perseverance. Believing you can improve, instead of assuming you’re stuck with the cards you were dealt, makes all the difference.”

What an insightful way to encourage ongoing effort. Shifting from outcome to process is helpful when we think of taking a trip. When it comes to traveling, some people want to get there as quickly as possible and look at arrival as the goal (outcome). Other people experience traveling beginning the minute they leave home (process). When the focus is on arriving, adventures along the way, such as new people to talk to, ethnic food to try, or beautiful scenery, are missed. When we savor every moment, the whole experience is one of pleasure and relaxation, which is what we want a trip to be all about. As T.S. Elliot said, “The journey, not the arrival matters.”

There are many Not Yet moments in our journey through life that can lead to reaching for our potential, and valuing the process. Those of us who have dealt with cancer or any major illness know there are markers along the way that say we’re in process but not there yet. The doctor visits, surgeries, treatment plans, waiting for test results, and specialist referrals are all part of the journey. Along the way we meet new people that often become dear friends, see places we wouldn’t ordinarily see, and try new therapies. We hear inspirational stories that lift our spirits, and we find humor in the most unexpected places.

This is using the effort, strategy, resilience, and perseverance Dr. Dweck mentions. We deepen our understanding of ourselves, clarify our goals, and know that even though we’re still Not Yet where we want to be, we’re on our way. In between the tough stuff are times of fun and play that keep us going. It’s never too late to finish something we started long ago, or to begin something we have never done before. Robert Tew shared a true story titled, “An 87-Year-Old College Student Named Rose.” Here is my condensed version.

On the first day of school the college professor asked everyone to walk around and introduce themselves. The professor felt a tap on his shoulder, turned around, and was greeted by a little old lady with a beaming smile who said, “Hi handsome. My name is Rose. I’m 87 years old. Can I give you a hug?” Of course they hugged, and then he asked her what motivated her to take on this challenge. Her reply was, “I’m here to meet a rich husband, get married, and have a couple of kids.” And then she added more seriously, “I always dreamed of having a college education and now I’m getting one!” She had begun a college degree years ago.

After class the two of them went to the student union, had chocolate milkshakes, and became instant friends. The professor was mesmerized by her wisdom and life experience. During the year Rose made friends everywhere she went on campus and became a campus icon. She loved interacting with the other students and was thoroughly enjoying her college experience. She was asked to speak at a football banquet, and as she began to talk she dropped her note cards. Her response was, “I’m sorry I’m so jittery. I gave up beer for Lent and this whiskey is killing me! I’ll never get my speech back in order so let me just tell you what I know.”

Rose presented what she most wanted them to know as four secrets to staying young, being happy, and achieving success. Here they are condensed:

  1. We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing. Laugh every day!
  2. We’ve got to have a dream. When we lose our dreams we die.
  3. We grow up by always finding opportunity in change.
  4. We need to live without regrets – especially for the things we did not do.

Rose died peacefully in her sleep one week after graduation. She had no regrets about her education and delighted in finishing the college degree she had started many years ago. Her life had been full of Not Yet when it came to completing her educational goal, but she found the right time to make her dream a reality.

Not Yet didn’t stop Rose and it doesn’t need to stop us. When life gives us a Not Yet, let’s remember that our journey is more pleasant if we take in the scenery along the way, enjoy new experiences, and meet those people who are friends in the making.

As Dr. Dweck suggests, when we focus on effort, strategy, perseverance, and resilience, we can turn that Not Yet into the beginning of the next chapter in our journey. No matter where we are in our journey, the process is always with us. It’s the devotion, dedication, and hard work that make each of us a success story. In Serena Williams’ words, “A champion is defined not by their wins, but by how they recover when they fall.”  

Until Next Time – Sylvia  

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