After his family lost its home to foreclosure, Richard Jenkins found himself living in a homeless shelter with his mother and two brothers. That may not seem like the way to set the stage for an Ivy League acceptance letter, but as Jenkins proved, the right mindset can turn obstacles into opportunities.
While staying in the shelter, Jenkins had a powerful moment of realization and recognized the potential for education to transform his life. His situation was far from perfect, but by focusing on academic achievement, he could help ensure it never happened again.
In spite of crippling migraines that required a hospital stay during his freshman year, Jenkins was able to keep pace with his high school classwork. And when an opportunity arose for him to transfer to Philadelphia's Girard College boarding school in his junior year, he took it. Girard offers promising students from single-parent households the chance to thrive. When applying to college, he was encouraged to reach for the stars, filling out applications to top-tier schools that included Penn, Yale, and Harvard.
Jenkins' success was no accident, nor was his Harvard acceptance letter. You can learn a few lessons from this incredible young man about what it takes to succeed.
1. Persistence is powerful.
Our society places a premium on "talent," but it's too often the enemy of achievement. When someone is talented and things come easily, he or she will be more inclined to give up when encountering something truly difficult.
On the other hand, when individuals like Jenkins have to overcome adversity in order to achieve their dreams, they're better equipped to deal with setbacks. Albert Einstein acknowledged that his knack for persevering had less to do with his intelligence than people suspected: "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer," he said. Progress in any field takes persistence, and there's no way around it. Don't give up, because the longer you've been trying at something and failing, the closer you are to a breakthrough. Be persistent without worrying that others will see you fail before you succeed.
2. Motivation is mandatory.
Motivation is a key trait of any successful individual, regardless of his or her situation. Even when children come from wealthy backgrounds and are given every advantage in life, a lack of motivation can see it all squandered. At the same time, an abundance of motivation can make up for countless disadvantages, such as a lack of financial resources or health issues.
Jenkins' story demonstrates that disadvantages can actually serve as a source of motivation. Jenkins was a naturally gifted student from a young age, but it was his family's move into the homeless shelter during his sixth-grade year that made him vow that his academic abilities would help get them out of that situation. Whether it's paying off your mortgage or giving your kids a better life than you had, find what personally motivates you and put it to use.
3. Curiosity is critical.
Persistence and motivation may keep you pushing forward, but curiosity will keep you moving in a positive direction. Curiosity is the key to success in any position because it leads you to ask questions, get answers, and ultimately be better at your job. Feeding your curiosity will help you think more creatively and learn new skills.
Even in elementary school, Jenkins had a curious mind, and he wouldn't let it be stifled. Bullies mockingly called him "Harvard" because he constantly raised his hand in class, but thanks to his overwhelming curiosity, Jenkins continued to ask questions and seek knowledge despite the teasing he received. Whether you pick up a book after dinner or listen to a podcast while commuting, follow his example by feeding your curiosity and looking for answers whenever possible.
Jenkins' story is unquestionably inspirational -- and it's also atypical. The reality is that homelessness and poverty have a lasting impact, and most kids who face obstacles similar to Jenkins' would be lucky to come away with a high school diploma. What's important to remember is that with persistence, motivation, and curiosity, they are certainly capable of achieving far more -- and.