From a developmental perspective, the tasks involved in growth as a person and as a future employee greatly overlap. In our last blog we described the phases and tasks involved in human development between the ages of 4 and 13 according to Erik Erikson and explored how these relate to career development and the growth of a self-system that is characterized by a sense of trust, personal autonomy, the ability to take initiative, and personal competency. The resulting resolution of each of Erikson’s stages is a particular character trait. Career guidance and education is often focused on the provision of information – about occupations and about self – and over time the emphasis evident in the information changes.
It is not uncommon to have a student engage educators at the post-secondary level in discussion on the importance of their final grades because of their belief that their grades will play a pivotal role in the realization of a satisfying career. Our response as educators is often that students should look past the grades attained and consider what they have learned and how they have grown as a result of the learning experience. Often this advice falls on deaf ears, however, as the myth of achievement as the defining indicator of potential success in their future endeavors is too firmly ensconced after years of pursuing good grades and being evaluated by such.
Recently, the education system in North America has shifted its attention slightly to the importance of also providing students with, what has become commonly known as, employability skills. Documents such as The Employability Skills Profile 2000+ in Canada and the 21st Century Skills and Competencies initiative in the US identify the skills and abilities that industry has identified as universally sought after in employees. While these skills are more closely related to character traits than achievement outcomes, the promotion of these skills still resembles, to a great extent, the provision of information relevant to securing a satisfying career.
An article by Paul Tough in the New York Times (Tough, 2011) has us thinking that the pursuit of top grades and the mastery of necessary skills and abilities may not be the most important factors in the quest for the “good life”. In this article Tough considers the recent work of Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania who is widely attributed with establishing Positive Psychology in the mainstream, and Dominic Randolph and David Levin, two prominent educators in New York City, who have been looking at the role of character in the attainment of a life that is not only happy, but also “meaningful and fulfilling”. The character traits they identify bear a striking resemblance to some of those we described in our last blog entry but they also represent a distinctly different direction of study and student development. They have identified 7 that they believe are most likely to predict life satisfaction and high achievement: zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity. In the realm of Positive Psychology, zest is referred to as living life with a sense of excitement and energy. Grit is described as a combination of passion for accomplishing great things with the unswerving dedication to achieve those things. Their findings, that students who persist in college and are ultimately successful in their career endeavours are not necessarily the ones who excelled academically, but rather the ones with exceptional character strengths. The traits that they identified can be developed with strategic tasks and experiences much like how we approach literacy outcomes. Career guidance and education, however, needs to shift from a stance of identifying these character traits as worthwhile at the point that active career exploration starts, to one of fostering their development early in a child’s development. In summary, we believe that the tasks of learning and preparation for a career are often daunting and sometimes discouraging, and that in the quest for success and the good life, “character is at least as important as intellect”. Consequently, it is essential that students not only learn to be literate, but that they develop good character also.
Tough, P. (2011). What if the secret to success is failure? The New York Times. Available online at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/18/magazine/what-if-the-secret-to-success-is-failure.html?_r=1.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA