Choir Notes

From Music and the Spoken Word
Delivered By: Lloyd D. Newell • Program 4369

A few years ago, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania studied the lives of National Spelling Bee finalists. She wanted to find out how they reached this significant accomplishment. Many people assume that they are just smarter than their peers. But the researcher found in these young people a trait more important than intelligence: she found tenacity. She writes: "The finalists are willing to forgo the immediate gratification of watching TV or texting friends so they can spend hours and do the tedious and merciless … work. They write out thousands of flashcards with words and definitions and memorize them.”1 These teens succeed because they are willing to resist the tugs and pulls of idleness and ease. With the encouragement of supportive parents, they just work harder and never give up. 

In the process, they likely discover an important truth: the thrill of victory comes not necessarily from winning, but from doing our best, giving our all, and enduring to the end. On the other hand, the agony of defeat comes not so much from losing, but from quitting. 

The same applies to any worthwhile goal—whether it’s completing a 5K run, graduating from college or vocational school, writing a book, composing a song, or raising a strong family—all these take tenacity, the willpower to see it through to the end. That "end” may be different from what we envisioned, and it may change over time, but the only way to get there is with tenacity. 

The root of the word tenacity is a Latin word that means "to hold fast.”2 And sometimes, holding fast to our goals and dreams may mean letting go of less important pursuits. But it does not feel like a sacrifice, because even if we never win a spelling bee, we can experience the thrill of victory if we have the tenacity to never give up.

1 Warren Kozak, "Call Them Tiger Students. And Get to Work,” Wall Street Journal, Apr. 5, 2013, A13.
2 See Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. [2003], "tenacious.”  

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