Resilience and Tenacity as Critical Traits in Social Success

“Only dead fish swim with the stream” – this proverb, familiar to millions of English-speaking natives is metaphorically saying that only a lazy person waits for success without making any effort. The proverb also implicitly warns that a passive stance can lead to symbolic death or failure. There are many similar proverbs or idioms about the benefits of persistence and perseverance, such as “If the wind does not serve, take to oars.” This indicates a significant interest in society in how individuals show willpower, and what consequences this leads to. Interestingly, fish are generally considered weak-willed creatures, and less purposeful than, say, mammals. Therefore, the proverb also has a shaming tinge, hinting to readers that even fish make an effort to achieve their goals. No less interesting is the symbol of the river, which can indicate the river of life in general, or, for example, the path that determines career growth, sports, or academic success. This paper aims to discuss how the proverb is supported with the social psychological research literature through analyzing two scholarly articles concerning the personal traits of tenacity, grip, and resilience.

“Onwards and upwards: The development, piloting and validation of a new measure of academic tenacity: the Bolton Uni-Stride Scale (BUSS)” by Chathurika Sewwandi Kannangara, Rosie Elizabeth Allen, Jerome Francis Carson, Samia Zahraa Noor Khan, Gill Waugh, and Kondal Reddy Kandadi is the first article under consideration. This article is studying the personal qualities of resilience, growth mindset, grit, and self-control in relation to academic success in school, college, and university students (Kannangara et al., 2020). It hypothesizes that qualities of resilience, grit, self-control, strength-use, as well as mindset and mental wellbeing, are closely related to academic success and therefore should be used as the determining co-factors in the Bolton Uni-Stride Scale (BUSS). The independent variables were the mentioned factors that were studied among the 344 university students, the dependent variable.

The article presents interesting findings regarding the importance of tenacity, self-control, and resilience. In particular, it showed that BUSS academic tenacity “correlated highly with grit, self-control, resilience, mindsets, and mental well-being” (Kannangara et al., 2020, p. 3). No less important, the scholars provided a detailed literature review regarding the listed qualities rich with the scholarly evidence that prove the importance of these qualities in academic success. In particular, grit “as the drive to persist in the face of adversity and to continue to persist in the pursuit of a long-term goal” was proved to be closely associated with academic achievement, productivity, and perseverance in challenging tasks (Kannangara et al., 2020, p. 4). At the same time, resilience, which is an ability to overcome adversities and challenges along the way, was a critical factor for student engagement and showed significant growth with the students ’age.

In general, the study supports the proverb, since it presents evidence that proves the importance of personal, practical effort, and perseverance in achieving goals. Moreover, the research provides an exhaustive relationship between the listed factors (Kannangara et al., 2020). It can be assumed that taken together, these factors can reinforce each other. Interestingly, these qualities can be called synonyms: for example, self-control is one of the essential conditions for perseverance and resilience, just like a positive, growth-oriented mindset and focusing on the strength use.

While the authors study the influence of volitional qualities on academic achievement, their findings can be extrapolated to areas of social life such as career or professional sports. Volitional qualities are very important in areas where competitive factors are expected. However, the scientists’ conclusion regarding the behavior of university students also suggests that volitional behavior can give good results in the spheres of self-development. In addition, volitional actions can contribute to the creation of sustainable social relationships, including family relationships and showing leadership qualities at work.

“Leadership tenacity and public-school superintendents” by Barbara A. Klocko, Riley J. Justis, and Elizabeth A. Kirby is the second article under consideration. In the study, the scholars studied how the personal qualities of resilience, grit, and experience helped the teachers from the rural areas in Michigan overcome the crisis of 2008-2012 when the number of students and teachers was severely declined due to national economic stagnation (Klocko et al., 2019). The authors hypothesized that tenacity achieved through resilience, grit, and experience, was the critical aspect of how superintendents reached success in overcoming the crisis. The dependent variable was 10 superintendents, purposefully chosen from the rural areas in Michigan, which suffered the most from the crisis (Klocko et al., 2019). The independent variable was their tenacity achieved through the combination of the mentioned personal qualities.

According to the findings, the superintendents who managed to save their jobs and proceed with teaching students in critical conditions had one common trait – tenacity. The latter was achieved through resilience, which is a willingness to respond to daily challenges, grit, which is the personal strength and experience, which is obtained constantly and under the current circumstances. This qualitative study cited interviews with teachers who described their teaching experiences in different ways (Klocko et al., 2019). However, all the participants shared the idea that only active participation in the life of schools and the utmost attention to professional responsibilities helped teachers create a fairly stable environment in teaching students. Therefore, tenacity can be seen as a strategically important personal trait.

Interestingly, scientists have also introduced the concept of deliberate practice. It was determined as “engagement in highly structured activities that are created specifically to improve performance in a domain through immediate feedback that require a high level of concentration, and that are not inherently enjoyable” (Klocko et al., p. 3). From their perspective, the deliberate practice was the key element in the superintendents ’professional success. The scholars also related willpower to the transformational leadership model practices like the inherent steps of challenging the process, inspiring the shared vision, and enabling others to act. It can be assumed that when expanding their sphere of influence outward, teachers ensured sustainable development within the framework of the inherent practices associated with the use of willpower.

Therefore, this study, like the first, supports the proverb saying that “only dead fish swim with the stream.” According to a survey of practicing teachers, the ability to resist challenges is one of the keys in teaching practice. It may seem surprising, but such are the realities brought about by the economic crisis, and, according to the statistics presented in the article, similar situations were observed in the field of education in several neighboring states. In other words, the qualities associated with the ability to establish discipline among students and communicate well the studied material are important but would be useless if teachers did not cope with the difficulties brought by the crisis. Therefore, we can conclude that the symbol of the river in the proverb is very accurate since the river includes many ingredients that the symbolic fish resists.

At the same time, in the study, the authors provided an exhaustive description of the theoretical basis used for the analysis. Therefore, the role of teachers was considered in the context of their leadership position concerning students and other teachers and employees of educational institutions. Leadership models of the deliberate practice and transformational leadership and practices characteristic of these models were considered. It is noteworthy that the superintendents used practices based on the presence of volitional qualities.

Thus, two studies in the field of social psychology that support the proverb “only dead fish swim with the stream” were analyzed. In the first article, the scholars conclude that the students with better resilience and self-control achieve better academic results, which is true for the students of both genders and does not depend on the students’ age, although the older students showed better tendencies in self-control. In the second article, the authors conducted qualitative research to study the impact of professional tenacity on the teachers ’success amid the economic crisis. In the findings, they presented the evidence that proved the increased professional success of superintendents that showed the personal qualities of resilience, grit, and experience in their daily work. Therefore, the two articles under analysis presented arguments in favor of the idea that “only dead fish swim with the stream,” which implies that only those who put enough effort into their activities achieve decent results.


Kannangara, C. S., Allen, R. E., Carson, J. F., Khan, S. Z. N., Waugh, G., & Kandadi, K. R. (2020). Onwards and upwards: The development, piloting and validation of a new measure of academic tenacity: The Bolton Uni-Stride Scale (BUSS). PLoS One, 15(7), 1-12.

Klocko, B. A., Justis, R. J., & Kirby, E. A. (2019). Leadership tenacity and public-school superintendents. Journal of Leadership Education, 18(1), 1-19.

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PsychologyWriting. (2022) 'Resilience and Tenacity as Critical Traits in Social Success'. 19 November.


PsychologyWriting. 2022. "Resilience and Tenacity as Critical Traits in Social Success." November 19, 2022.

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PsychologyWriting. "Resilience and Tenacity as Critical Traits in Social Success." November 19, 2022.