Hey all, today is Monday March 8 2021 and we are continuing women’s history month learning about perseverance and resilience. And we start today by thinking about Harriet Tubman, who not only escaped from enslavement but in the face of most perilous danger worked to help others escape from enslavement and who went on to work for the betterment of women being included in the right to vote.
We could also draw on the actions of Malala Yousafazi who was working on her own education when she was shot by the Taliban for going to school because she was a girl. Not only did that not stop her, once she healed she continued learning and fighting for others to be able to get an education also.
Ellery: Or we could draw on Lilly Ledbetter who championed equal pay rights for women and became the namesake of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which was signed into law in 2009.
Among the things these women have in common are the skills that define perseverance and resilience. That would be motivation for sure, which we talked about last week. But they would have all had 2 other underlying skills of perseverance, strong self-esteem and an ability to be reflective and curious. And strong self-esteem and being reflective and curious are what we are going to focus on today.
Self-esteem is like your sense of your own overall value or worth. Why does it need to be strong and how does it factor into perseverance? Well, if you remember perseverance means the voluntary continuation of a goal-directed action in spite of obstacles, difficulties, or discouragement. It means to keep working toward your goal, even when it’s challenging or when you struggle or when you face setbacks.
During the pursuit of something you are motivated for, you will likely face challenges, setbacks, and struggle. Let’s take a minute to try to define what we mean by challenges and setbacks and struggles. A challenge is something that may put your skills to a test. Challenges may add up to setbacks. A setback is something that either reverses your progress toward something or temporarily halts your progress entirely. The word struggle describes the actions of working out of or through some type of constriction. Struggle can be used to describe physical actions as in the players struggled on the ground for control of the ball. But struggle can be used on a deeper level to describe something larger than a challenge or a setback and may even be used to describe a series of challenges and setbacks. As in, when Mr. Manzo was in second grade, he struggled in math, so he went back to a first-grade class during math time. And struggle can also be used to describe a larger context as in, for years people have struggled and continue to struggle to have equitable access to all the benefits of our society.
So, as you can see from these definitions, challenges, setbacks, and struggles can require additional energy and effort. Sometimes, when facing challenges, setbacks, you might think, “I wish this wasn’t so hard”. If you do, try and remember this struggle makes you stronger. You are not fragile. You will not whither from a setback. In fact, you are worth the setback. In fact, the setback may be there to help you build your strength, to refine your thinking, to hone your skills. You are worth the struggle to meet and achieve your goals.
Let’s say you want to build some muscles in your arms. At some point you are probably going to have to lift something that is heavy. It will be difficult. You may even break a sweat. The day after you lift something heavy you will very likely be sore. That’s how it works. So, you go back the next day and do it again. You keep doing it. It never gets easier; weights never get lighter. If they do, that means you need to increase them.
It’s not easy lifting weights. It’s not supposed to be. If it is, then it’s not lifting weights. See how that works? You are worth it. You are worth all of your setbacks. All of the struggles, you are worth that, and more. Can you ride a bike? Maybe you started on training wheels. One day, you tried without training wheels. You fell. You got back up. Why? Because you were worth it. Riding a bike is important and you are worth the pain of learning. Now you ride on two wheels. Then one day, you fall. Total wreck, road rash, it hurts, maybe you cry. Maybe you are embarrassed. Whatever. You get back up. That’s where the muscle is being built. You ride again. Why? Because you are worth it.
There are a lot of steps to understanding your value. You will receive many, many messages about what you are worth. Messages from where you stay and the people you stay with. Messages from the community you share the greatest sense of belonging with. Messages from communities you share some sense of belonging with. Messages from communities you do not share a sense of belonging with. All of those messages can contribute to how much you value yourself.
We often have very little control over the messages that come at us. Some of the messages we take in are supportive and help us see value in ourselves. However, sometimes messages we take in can be hurtful and can give us little reason to see value in ourselves. If you are noticing that you are receiving messages that make it difficult for you to see yourself as valuable and full of worth you may really benefit from sharing that with others. Consider sharing this with the people you trust, and the communities you share the greatest sense of belonging with. People you know, will know how to help.
But at the end of the day, the weight of valuing yourself will need to be lifted by you. Here’s the thing, self-esteem does not need to come from social comparison. That may be more like self-image. Self-esteem does not need to come from trust in your own abilities, that may be more like self-confidence. Self-esteem does not necessarily come from belief in your ability to succeed, that may be more self-efficacy. Self-esteem does not necessarily come from how we relate to ourselves, that may be more self-compassion.
No, self-esteem is the sense of value you have of yourself. Here is one way to begin to practice building value in yourself. Practice setting small, realistic goals, and recognize when you have completed them. You don’t have to give yourself a herald of trumpets and a parade through the streets for the accomplishment of something small and achievable but do recognize your ability to meet that goal.
Here’s another way, try not to focus on perfection as an outcome. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. That’s Voltaire interpreting an old Italian proverb. Here’s Confucius: "Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without." Here’s Mr. Shakespeare, “How far your eyes may pierce I cannot tell, striving to be better, oft we mar what’s well.” That’s from King Lear, Act 1 Scene 4. It means something like, “maybe you know more than me, but a lot of the times people ruin something good by trying to make it perfect.”
Basically, if your value of yourself is held by perfection, then a set-back may do some serious damage. At that point, your struggle may turn to be more with yourself than with the thing you are motivated for. If you recognize this, either practice reframing this or talk to someone. Tell them about how you hold perfection for yourself. Maybe in connecting with someone you’ll discover something about yourself or you’ll learn skill from someone else. Maybe if they are your peer, they have also experienced this. Don’t underestimate the power of social learning. And if not, talk to a trusted adult, talk to someone you stay with, maybe your school counselor. Or if you are an adult, maybe consider talking to one of your peers or talking with a professional.
And lastly, don’t forget the power that lies in service of others. We are going to dedicate an entire week to that in the future, but for right now, just know that there is tremendous power when you work in service for others. You may even be surprised at how your self-esteem changes when you help other people.
Ellery: To build a strong and enduring muscle you must exercise it. Same with self-esteem. Find something you are motivated for. Go for it! Try, try, try. Then, when you face a set-back, recognize it. Feel it. It may sting, it may down-right hurt. Once the initial hurt has passed, which it will, try to reframe the setback as “building a muscle” or “gaining a skill”. But, strong self-esteem, will help you handle the struggle and setbacks, so you don’t collapse or give-up along the way.
But, you won’t actually be able to use a challenge or setback or struggle for help unless you have time to reflect on what happened. Otherwise, you run the risk of struggling against things that aren’t helpful or aren’t healthy. And sometimes there are situations where things are stacked against you in a way that makes it impossible to win, without help. Reflection gives you the space to really think about what happened and why.
Reflection is essential for thinking about the challenge, the setback, and the struggle. Reflection is the time for thinking about what happened that caused the struggle. Was the task too difficult? Did you not have enough resources? Were things equal within reason? Were things equitable? What was the goal and what was it that kept you from getting it? These questions may seem difficult to ask, but it’s the way you don’t repeat exactly what happened. It’s one of the reason high level sports teams watch videos of their games. They're looking for ways to improve, even when they win.
Reflecting on something not going well is not easy, and you can’t just jump straight into it, but you do eventually want to, if you want to keep pursuing your goal. And school is a great way to practice this. Editing your writing, reflecting on class, thinking about your performance, all of those things build these skills. And again, if you tried something and it didn’t work and you tried the exact same thing again in the exact same circumstances and it didn’t work again, well, that might not be healthy. Trying and trying again and again, without ever thinking about what you’re doing, or what you’re facing, well that’s not really perseverance, that’s just repetition.
All of this is designed to help you understand how to build your skills of perseverance and resilience. And to bring us back to the top, you can see all these skills demonstrated by the women we mentioned in the first part. Harriet Tubman, Malala Yousafazi, Lilly Ledbetter, and so many more, are examples of the strength of the skills that make up perseverance and resilience. Until next week, may your thoughts and feelings be with you.