“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
While heading home late on Christmas Eve, I asked my driver: “What inspires you?” He thought for a moment, then answered: “Stories of overcoming.” That was it! I thought to myself. That is what makes this holiday so significant. That is what draws people to reality shows like Biggest Loser, or even the title of Survivor speaks to what is accomplished, and the dramas are all about skilled people who overcome one challenge after another. We find hope for humanity in witnessing success after a difficulty.
Consider the story of Rudy, the classic tale of a young man who has a dream, a love, a great flaw, but he perseveres unflinchingly until his dream of playing football at Notre Dame comes true.
To be honest, I always questioned how this story was so loved because it focused on supporting someone’s dream that seemed (to me) pointless because, let’s face it, Rudy never became a great player. But maybe that’s the whole point I’ve been missing. Maybe pursuing a dream isn’t just inspiring because someone becomes great. I wouldn’t want children to only try in classes that they are going to earn A’s. Growth and strength tend to develop through the experience, the practice, the journey, not the ending point. These trying moments along life’s path are what increase what is being called “grit.” Author Paul Tough points out that psychologists list grit as one of the most important characteristics of successful individuals. They may not be highly successful at everything they try, but those failures and challenges that are part of the human experience are what develop happier people, individuals who have learned how to overcome difficulties (http://ideas.time.com/2012/09/05/why-grit-is-more-important-than-grades/).
Today’s helicopter parenting techniques prevent this development. Parents trying to sway a teacher or even college professor’s grade selection for their child doesn’t exactly help a child learn about his or her own merit. I once learned that the mother of a job candidate (who had no connection to anyone at the school) called the office to encourage the director to hire her daughter. Talk about an effort leading to the opposite result that parent desired! If a parent picks up her child every time he falls, how are his legs ever going to be strong enough to get up and walk independently?
How will such a generation solve challenging problems at work or overcome difficulties in relationships? How will it handle deep questions like: Do I truly make a difference in the world?” or “Am I doing enough?”
A little piece of advice from the educator Dr. Maria Montessori :“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” And for adults- may we try harder, stretch higher, and attempt to walk a few more difficult trails than ever before.
Here’s to a year of developing greater inner beauty and strength!