From age 4, we are in school learning how to add, subtract, read, and write. We learn about the founding fathers, the state capitals, and the periodic table. We learn all about the external world and what elements make up the world we live in, but we are often left unskilled, unprepared, and lost on how to navigate our own personal internal world.
So much is made of preparing children, adolescents, and young adults for the future of the world—to become leaders, presidents, astronauts, doctors, and lawyers. However, my greater concern is preparing people of all ages to understand and withstand the heartbreak, failure, hurt, pain, and sorrow they will undoubtedly experience along their journey to all the highest peaks. And more importantly, that they are not alone in their hurt. We all go through difficult times. We all experience hardships, but we are not all going through the same difficulties at the same time. It is in these common experiences that we learn that the human experience is more similar than different.
As an emerging adult, former child, and human being, I am struck everyday with how we are all more similar than different. We may not look the same from the outside. You may have different color hair, different illnesses, an addiction, more money, or less money. It doesn’t matter what car you drive or if you even drive a car at all, we all encounter failures. These failures are often related to our feelings of self-blame, guilt, shame, sadness, and grief. Unfortunately, no one teaches us that these feelings are completely normal and, in fact, somewhat expected. You cannot have the success you desire, at whatever stage you are in, and not expect failure. The sun only rises through the darkness of the night and to get to any end goal, there is going to be moments of challenge. Just look at Michael Jordan who was able to become one of the best NBA players of all time even after not making it onto his high school basketball team.
At what point are we going to begin integrating life skills on how to handle hardships into classrooms and homes? We need to realize that finding our internal compass is just as important as learning our world geography. We can start today by teaching children how to handle those moments when they didn’t get the grade they wanted, when they were ostracized by a group of friends, when life didn’t turn out the way they expected.
The tricky part with all that is that we, as adults, have to clean up our inner world because we can only teach at the level we understand. So if we ourselves are living with bitterness, anger, fear, or scarcity, then we are limited in our ability to teach our friends, children, adolescents, and young adults about resilience, acceptance, and most importantly perseverance towards a greater goal.
I know for myself, for a long time I grew up with the myth of fearlessness. I thought some people were fearless and some people were not. I’ve now realized that fear is not something some people have and some don’t, but it is something we all have and only some people choose to buy into it. Some engage with the fear and let the fear take over. Some say “screw it” with the fear and do it anyways. Fearlessness is not the absence of fear, but it is feeling the fear and doing it anyway.article continues after advertisement
I don’t know if I have the right answer for where to start, but I would argue that it starts with ruthless honesty about where we are. We live in this world where we all go around with our failures and fears, but no one talks about them. Understandably, we don’t post on Facebook when we get rejected from grad school, when our fiancé decides to break up with us, when our friend betrays us, or when we get a divorce from our spouse of 10 years. What we post on Facebook are the happy moments, the aspects of our lives that we want to relive, and in doing so, we can subconsciously send the message that we hide, don’t talk about, and even don’t process the difficult moments. In doing so, we can create a society of individuals thinking they are alone in their experience, not knowing that everyone else has been through something similar, but also chose not to announce it to the world.
We need to start creating a language that makes it ok for people to feel the things that are difficult to feel. It is through that dialogue that we begin to own our story as another part of our lives that can later be used as a tool to help someone else going through a similar experience. Because the truth is that at any moment in life you can be both a student and a teacher. You are a student to those who have blazed the trail before you and you are also a teacher to those who have yet to go through what you’ve been through. I often tell people in my substance use treatment group that there are people who are one day less sober than you are and you can offer them something because you have had one more day of experience. Similarly, there are people ahead of you who have been sober longer than you who can give you tools that you haven’t encountered yet.
With that, I wonder what are we teaching the people for whom we are blazing the trail? Do we teach them to hide their feelings, ignore the failures, and deny their truth? And more importantly, as teachers, do we do that ourselves? These are all questions we need to ask ourselves because as we look out into the world and see the violence, communication breakdowns, and relational difficulties, we have to ask ourselves how much of that is also going on in our own personal lives? Because our ability to solve the world’s problems is deeply rooted in our ability to solve our own problems.