Resilience and perseverance - What's in your rucksack?

We all know that lack of resilience and perseverance are challenges faced in Primary schools up and down the country.  Children are too willing to give in, throw in the towel and walk away rather than persist and continue to try. 

We also all know that we as adults have a role to play in teaching resilience and perseverance to our children.  But are we equipped to? How good are we at it?

What strategies do we have in our locker to deal with our own perceived failures?

Last summer my eldest and I headed to Snowdonia for a walk up Mount Snowdon.  The weather was ok as we set off.  Slightly overcast with drizzle in the air.  Nothing majorly to worry about.

I’d checked the weather report and knew there was a fairly high risk of a storm.  We packed water proofs and warm clothes.  Hats and gloves went in our day sack along with a flask of tea, compass, map and snacks.

This may seem excessive for Snowdon (I have seen people attempt it in flip-flops!) but I knew from the weather report that we could very quickly go from being comfortable, to being in a challenging situation.  Visibility can go almost instantly on a mountain and it pays to be prepared.  If you carry the tools in your rucksack to get you out of trouble, you’re half way to winning the battle.

We were about 2 hours into our walk when the weather turned.  The clouds came in and visibility was down to about 10 feet.  We had a decision to make – Carry on or turn around and head down.  I asked Kian what he thought we should do? His answer was to turn around and head down.  “We’ll always have another day to get to the top, Dad”. 

As we headed back down, talk turned to our failed summit attempt.  It was the first time in 14 attempts that we’d not made it to the top.  I asked Kian if he was bothered.  His reply was “No, I just enjoy the walk and the fresh air.”

As I sit at my desk, thinking about resilience and persistence in Primary Schools and the work we do with our summiteer skills through the Steps 2 Summit program, I think back to that summer day.  

I can’t get away from the fact that our perception of failure is what leads us to not try, to give up, to walk away.  If I don’t try, I can’t fail.  Right?

We didn’t get to the top.  So we failed, right?

No.  We didn’t fail. 

You only fail if you focus on the destination.

We focussed on the journey.  Not the destination.

Did we become better decision makers on the mountain that day? Definitely.

Did we use all the information available to us to ensure we were as safe as possible? Absolutely.

Could we have not bothered stepping foot on the mountain based on what we knew from the weather report? Hell yeah!

But we did.  We set off and gave it a go.  We tried. 

And we didn’t fail.  We learnt.  We became more knowledgeable. 

We became better, more experienced mountaineers.  Getting to the top wouldn’t have changed that. 

So how can we take this thought process and help educate children about dealing with failure? Or perceived failure?

The fundamental thing to remember is that they will face challenges.  The weather will draw in now and again and make achieving what they set out to do more difficult. 

They will find some school work difficult.  They girl they ask out will say no.  They won’t get the job they want. 

We can help educate them.

Firstly, focus on the journey, not the destination.  Get better every day.  Look at the positive in every situation.  Matt Monix made it to the summit of Mount Everest on the 20th May 2018.  It was Matt’s third Everest attempt, and coming up short twice before had both strengthened his resolve and gave him a new definition of “success.” Matt learned to see his previous two Everest trips not as failures but as transformative experiences. He learned to value the journey over the destination.

And then secondly, when something does happen that is out of their control, remind them to carry with them what they need in their rucksack for when it does go wrong (because, we all know that now and again it will!).  For us, it was a flask, warm clothes and waterproofs.  For them it might be their sense of humour, a good friend to talk to or just a different perception of looking at what they have achieved, not what they have failed to do.

The key is not to be fearful of failure.  To achieve anything, you have to push yourself further than you have been before. 

Don’t remove the need for resilience and perseverance from our children’s lives – Just make sure you’ve educated them in some of the things they might need in their backpack.



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