In my own life, I’ve tried my best to help popularize the Angela Duckworth maxim that you should “choose easy” and “work hard.” (Dr. Duckworth authored Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.) I think this advice applies to our personal lives as much as it does to our careers. In fact, I believe the two directives are inseparable.
This struck me again recently when I interviewed Louisa Thomas about her terrific book Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams. That’s not to say Louisa’s marriage to John Quincy Adams was easy (certainly, it wasn’t for Louisa), but it is very clear that Mr. Adams was aided by a wife who provided an environment in which he could flourish.
To be sure, John Quincy had much to recommend him (being the son of the second president didn’t hurt), but who knows if he would have made it to the White House had he married his first love, Mary Frazier.
As Thomas told me, Louisa “probably brought more to the marriage than anyone could have hoped or anyone could have, because John Quincy lived at a time when campaigning was considered craven.”
And this mattered greatly because, she continued,
politics involves people. And John Quincy needed…people to like him. He needed people to pay attention to him. And he had to do it without sort of asking. And it really helped—I mean it was critical—that he had this wife who was this wonderful social presence, who was a wonderful hostess, who had an ability to put people at ease, who could invite people to the dinner table for political conversation that was under the guise of a social evening. You know, she had a series of weekly parties that were called “Tuesdays with Mrs. Adams” and she called it “my campaign”…and it really was her campaign in some ways, more than him. When she goes to Philadelphia, she sets up a sort of campaign headquarters…and so, the task really falls to her, and she does it splendidly, and, in the end, pretty critically, because the election goes to the House in 1824. So the people who are choosing the president are really the people who are coming to her parties—they are the Congressmen.
The old trope that behind every great man, there is a great woman may seem trite and cliché. But in the case of John Quincy Adams, it certainly rings true. Louisa Adams’ grace and forethought was indispensable, and she effortlessly provided the balance John Quincy needed to succeed in both his career and his life.