Recipe for Success: My reflections on the book that every student should read

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Book review of 5 Principles for a Successful Life by Newt Gingrich and Jackie Gingrich Cushman.

Dream Big, Work Hard, Learn Every Day, Enjoy Life, Be True to Yourself – these are the five principles presented in this small but profound book. In addition to the authors’ [father and daughter] wisdom, there are many insightful quotes and anecdotes from well-known athletes, TV personalities, political and military figures (from both sides of the aisle), musicians, artists, writers, performers, and successful business people. In this little book, you will find many nuggets of wisdom that will appeal to all political persuasions.

“Dream Big”

  • Many successful people will tell you that you must have a firm handle on your dream, stick to your dream, and not give up on your dream. Sadly, I often see a void in this area in the homeschool world, as all-too-often, we get caught up in the pressures of academics and forget to allow time for extras, out-of-the-box thinking, and dreaming.
  • It is also important that we let our kids come up with their own dream, not someone else’s. We must be careful not to influence their future too much; we want it to be theirs!

“Work Hard

  • When people don’t achieve their dreams, they often attribute it to lack of vision, when in fact, it is often just plain old lack of effort, hard work, or perseverance. In this day of instant gratification, it is even more challenging for our kids to be persistent, persevere, and do hard things. Start when the kids are young; instill good habits through regular or daily practice.
  • Also, be sure to let your kids know that everyone makes mistakes and fails. Mistakes are where we learn the most and are challenged to work harder. Help your child benefit from failure. What can we learn from this? How can I improve?
  • Gingrich makes a case for “cheerful persistence.” A great message for us all!
  • And my favorite quote of all: “The dictionary is the only place where success comes before work.” (Vince Lombardi, renowned football coach)

“Learn Every Day”

  • According to Admiral Giambastiani, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, competence is the key ingredient of success. And “competence requires a questioning attitude. You must question assumptions, verify data, and seek multiple sources of information,” (emphasis mine). The problem is we parents don’t usually like our kids questioning us and tend to shut them down. Instead, we need to be encouraging their deep and independent thinking.
  • Kids today have so much information at their fingertips! Just as it’s hard for us to really appreciate life-easing technology—like the washing machine, for instance (since most of us have never experienced a time without it)—I’m not sure young people can really appreciate that they have instant access to virtually all knowledge. To help them appreciate and make the best use of this massive amount of information from an early age, teach them the love and value of education. Make sure they know that knowledge is the key that opens doors of opportunity and that learning should always be their top priority. Challenge them to learn something new every day.
  • Remember that learning comes in many forms. Experiences yield knowledge like no other.
  • Seek out mentors, especially in your field of interest. Also, be on the lookout for collaborators; a project, idea, or dream is often enhanced by adding someone else to the mix. Learn to be an effective communicator, as most dreams involve others with whom you need to communicate.
  • Model curiosity. Be comfortable talking to people, asking questions, and learning. Make good use of a bus or plane ride. Cabbies are another wealth of diverse experiences. Don’t be shy; listen to their stories; you will be smarter at the end. An added bonus: you may make some valuable connections that will be beneficial in the future.

“Enjoy Life”

  • Being challenged and working hard can also be enjoyable. All too often, we allow negative thinking and pessimism to steal our enjoyment of an otherwise mundane or difficult task.
  • “Every day is a gift.” Research tells us that practicing gratefulness improves students’ attitudes and grades, among other things.
  • Yes, hard work is vitally important. However, it is prudent to set aside times of rest too. To guard against burn-out, everyone needs some down-time to rest, regroup, and reevaluate. The authors make a good case of the need for recovery: “physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.”
  • Be charitable and focused on others. Arthur Brooks, the author of “Who Really Cares; The surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism,” believes that “charity is vital to our personal prosperity, happiness, and health.”

Whether large or small, giving can benefit the giver, as much as, if not more than, the receiver. Making giving a regular part of your family and homeschool will help your students see outside of themselves and instill the love of benefitting others.

Brooks believes in this “reinforcing cycle.” “Prosperous people are more likely to be charitable, and charitable people are more likely to be prosperous.”

Oliver North’s sage advice for enjoying life: “Don’t let a day pass without asking someone, ‘How can I help you?’”

“Be True to Yourself

The book says it best: “Being true to yourself might sound easy, but it is not. It requires knowing who you are and doing what you love and what is right, even when others may be going down another path. It requires being willing to stand up for what you believe and to dance to your own beat when others are urging you to simply follow someone else’s. It means being willing to take stands that may be unpopular and holding your ground. Being true to yourself is the toughest principle to live by.“

A Must-Read

This is just a taste of the many inspiring insights of “5 Principles for a Successful Life.” Additionally, there are lots of references to other books – your student (and you!) will be motivated to read them too!

There are many great “homeschooling” ideas to glean from this book as well. My favorite was a journalist’s story about doing “writing drills” while working at a major newspaper. Each reporter was required to choose a random person out of the phone book (remember those?) and write a story about them. According to Tucker Carlson: “If you ask the right questions, everyone has something interesting to say…”Why not add that little exercise to your students’ yearly curriculum? Not only is it a great writing assignment, but it will expand their knowledge and open their horizons to new people and ideas.

This book would be that perfect gift for the graduate. But don’t wait for graduation, this is a great read for your high-schooler or even a family read-aloud with the younger kids.

-Stacey

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Did you know that HSLDA has educational consultants available to assist our members along every step of their homeschooling journey? Please check out our consultant websites: Toddlers to TweensHigh School, and Special Needs. 

Photo Credit: Graphic design by Charity Klicka.

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