How beliefs shape careers

Mathematics is one subject in which many people claim not to be good with numbers. It almost seems acceptable to suggest that there is an inborn, predetermined inability to deal with numbers that , to excuse, to the casual observer, a lack of trying and effort. Is there any truth to this predetermined ability? Or are people shaped and influenced more by society and expectation?

Research shows the latter to be true. In psychological research undertaken by Yale University, the attitudes of two groups of students were studied by psychologists. The students were high school students and they were tracked across the college studies and working careers. The results of the research undertaken in 2008 found that even though the students had been assessed in high school to have similar SATs scores, there were diverse outcomes in their future careers. Those that went on to successful careers were those that displayed a willingness for patience and a willingness to try. Those that did not persist when faced with the initial signs of difficulty were those that ended up with what might be considered less stellar careers.

The results of this research are hardly surprising. We know that hard work allows us to achieve good results. What is less known, however, was that the less successful group was more inclined to quote generalisations to support their lack of effort. When students faced initial difficulty in the subject of Mathematics, some claimed “I’m not good with numbers” or “I’m more of an essay person” or “My family are more artistic and creative types”. The problem is two-fold: these generalisations are made by adults to excuse their own lack of effort, and secondly, younger individuals pounce on them as an immediate knee-jerk reaction to difficulty, and held on to these “axioms”. Few of those who claimed at high school level that they were not good with numbers went on to careers requiring these skills.

It is more the environment that shapes ability. Environment also shapes reaction. To help kids succeed, some measures could include putting them in training environments where they have to develop skills at persistence, trying while manipulating information. One of these environments is in learning a musical instrument. As a piano teacher in Stroud Green  mentions, it is juggling six or seven skills while developing the patience to improve.