“In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.” – Albert Bandura, psychologist
“…I just don’t know what to do!”
Sandy was a single father raising his two kids, a daughter, Melanie, aged 13, and a son, Michael, aged 18. Sandy worked as an auditor for an accounting firm. He liked his work he said because it involved working with numbers, not people. He had been a widower for over 5 years, his wife having succumbed to breast cancer. He had not initiated a new relationship, instead he said, focusing on raising his children.
Sandy was 48 years of age and starting to gain mass as he sat more at a computer than he ran on a treadmill. He was a neat man which was showed in his grooming and clothes…probably reflecting a neat worker and a neat mind…both useful in balancing numbers.
He said concern for his son Michael, was what had spurred his call, to see me. He said he was ‘very concerned’ about Michael.
I asked him, “What are you concerned about, Sandy?”
“Ken, Michael hasn’t completed his high school yet, he is a few credits short. I want him to be successful…he is going to need an education…it’s my job to make sure that happens…and I just don’t know what to do!” he replied, the worry draining his face of any colour.
“…success is very personal…”
“Sandy, what are your measures of success for Michael?”
“Well, I guess…an education, a good job, perhaps a family of his own…those sort of things.” he responded.
“Sandy, I bet you know lot of people who have those things, and they are still not successful! Is that true…could you name a few you have met?”
He looked thoughtful for a bit. Then he said, “Well, I guess they don’t guarantee success…but they help, don’t they?”
“Sandy, they certainly can, but success is very personal, and actually, more an internal perception than an external perception. Let me offer you an example.”
“OK!” he said.
“I bet you have met someone in the past who appeared to have none of those things you mentioned…an education, a job or family…and yet, they seemed successful, to you, in their life.
“Obstacles, of course, are developmentally necessary: they teach kids strategy, patience, critical thinking, resilience and resourcefulness.” – Naomi Wolf, writer
“Ken, that bring back the memory I have of my Uncle Dan. He lived on my family farm, just about, his whole life. He had minimal education, kept the farm going as best he could, and never married. But, he was a mentor to so many of my family. And even neighbours would come and seek his perspective on everything from farming to politics. I’d have to say, he was a successful man, regardless of those things I mentioned.”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about, Sandy. And, I bet you also know people who have the education, the big job and the family…but, they are not a success in your view…is that true, as well?”
“Ken, I have a neighbour who fits that scenario to a T! He is very well educated, teaches at the community college, and has beautiful kids…but, to me, he’s a failure…makes no time for them…actually neglects them, in my opinion.”
“So, success may be something else…something more internal than external for some people?”
“Maybe so. I never considered it from that angle before!”
“…the three things are within the child, not external to the child…”
“Several years ago, I was researching a keynote, I was giving to some foster parents on what makes kids successful…what if often called, resiliency. I found there are three things that are essential for success, or resiliency, in children. Sandy, …do you want to know what they are?”
“Yes, I do, Ken!”
“What is interesting is the three things are within the child, not external to the child…they are really three beliefs, or perhaps attitudes, they have about themselves!”
“Are you saying our beliefs affect our success in life?”
“Sandy, since it has been proven scientifically, our beliefs affect our cells, genes and DNA, it is not surprising they affect our success in life, as well.”
“I didn’t realize that at all!” he replied, somewhat surprised.
“You may be surprised at what they are. In fact, it may relieve you to know what they are…but, you will decide that.”
“That makes it even more interesting to me because I could use some relief from all the worrying I have been doing lately. So, what are the three things that most impact a child’s chance for success in life?” he said, clearly tired of waiting, and challenging me to spill the beans.
“…they believed there was a person who was in their corner…”
“Sandy, this was research done in the UK and it looked at, not what builds resiliency, but rather, what beliefs do children, who are resilient already, project to others. And, the first one was a belief they are OK as people, no better and no worse, no smarter and no dumber, than anyone else.”
“Ken, that’s interesting given how many parents think their child is a special genius, unlike everyone else’s kid, who is just, ordinary.”
“The second belief they carried was that, at least, one person, believed in them…they believed there was a person who was in their corner during life’s challenges. It could be anyone and, while a parent was a common one, so also were, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends, coaches, teachers, and so on.”
“That kind of reminds me, not to exaggerate my role, as a dad…I guess, there are a lot of people, besides me, parenting my kids…I have really noticed that more since my wife died 5 years ago…many people have stepped in to help me.”
“Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival.The goal of resilience is to thrive.” – Jamais Cascio, writer
“… display a belief in their ability to learn anything…”
“It goes back to that African saying about it taking a village to raise a child, doesn’t it? I think the third belief of resilient kids is also, interesting …and surprising. It was that successful, resilient children display a belief in their ability to learn anything, if they put their mind to it.”
“Wow, I never would have guessed that one! So a child’s attitude or belief about their ability to learn is critical to their success. That is really interesting to me because when I think about Michael…it is not he doesn’t like school or hates learning…it is just he is still struggling to set clear priorities for himself.”
“So, when you apply all three of those beliefs to Michael, how does he look to you, Sandy?”
“Well, when I think about his attitude toward himself and others, I think, he thinks he is OK. I haven’t seen any evidence of arrogance or inferiority, so far. He has a few close friends and seems to get along with most people…so I think he is OK in that area, Ken.”
“What about having someone who, he thinks, believes in him?”
“…kids learn when their ready…not when we’re ready, eh?”
“Ken, he was very close to him Mom before she passed…and we have got closer since then. And, his Grandfather, his Mom’s Father, thinks the sun, rises and sets, over Michael. So, besides his younger sister, Melanie, me and his Grandfather…I think he is doing OK there as well.”
“Then, there is only the third area left…his attitude toward learning. What would you say there, Sandy?”
“Well, his lack of his Grade 12 diploma does bother me a lot, but, as I said, it is not about his lack of interest in learning…it is about his lack of interest in setting priorities…which I guess he will learn, eventually.”
“Sandy, he will still need your perspective at times…but you already know…kids learn when their ready…not when we’re ready, eh?”
“Don’t I know it!” he replied with a smile.
“But, overall, it looks like it’s too early to go judging Michael’s success potential. He sounds like he has the three essentials of resiliency, so he is in good shape to design his own destiny…successfully. Would you agree, Sandy?”
“It sure looks like it, Ken. I feel much better about his situation, now. But, I want to keep an eye on him anyway…just to be sure!”
“I think that’s a very wise strategy, Sandy!”
“The moment we believe that success is determined by an ingrained level of ability as opposed to resilience and hard work, we will be brittle in the face of adversity.” – Joshua Waitzkin, celebrity
Until Next time…
Here is an opportunity to clear out your head, get rid of the ‘brain noise’ that interferes with your life, and slows you down on your path forward. Use the three critical beliefs research links to resiliency to assess your own view of life. Maybe it’s time to upgrade your beliefs so they serve your success rather than handicap you.
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