Being Gritty when you’re not that resilient

There’s a lot of work being done in the UK education system around character traits for success. Specifically for education, there are eight :

Grit
Resilience
Optimism
Zest
Self control
Gratitude
Social Intelligence
Curiosity

This links in also to the term ‘growth mindset’. For those of you who haven’t come across this, it’s the idea that anyone can do anything they want if they just work hard enough.

I’m going to go way off on a tangent now, but stick with me…

The ability to admit to any form of mental health issue is difficult. There is a fear of labels, and an even bigger fear of an instant glass ceiling attached to the admission that you’re less than capable of ruling the world.

Each time I hear the term growth mindset I cringe. Not because I disagree (actually, I do genuinely believe that anyone can outperform all possible expectations), but I cringe because the term suggests that if I feel like I’m dropping some of my many spinning plates, it’s because I’m not working hard enough; and if at 35 those two words can feel like a head shot, what does it feel like for a vulnerable teenager who is dropping academic plates? Beware the subtle messages that we give to children. “Keep on keeping on” still echos around my head in the clipped southern counties accent of our old headmistress.

I have some supreme lows and despite being told I’m doing a great job, I don’t believe it. I hide this with as much energy as I can muster so that glass ceiling isn’t installed and I don’t become ‘that person’. It’s exhausting, but I’m not defined by my brain chemistry any more than I am by my hypermobility which people have learnt to politely ignore. (I am not brave, I have not ‘done anything’, I’m wearing a joint brace,  I’m fine. Don’t make a fuss)

What do I want to tell those kids? That grit is more than studying until 1am. Grit is getting up even when you feel like hiding under the bed. Grit is walking into that classroom and saying good morning. Grit is marking / completing the homework instead of curling up in a blanket fort.

Resilience isn’t brushing off harsh words or taking criticism without tears. It’s feeling sick at the idea of participating in life today, but saying to yourself “ok, what’s the worst that could happen here?” Then being pleasantly surprised when your day actually isn’t as shitty as the one you’d prepared for. Optimism may not come easily and for some of us, expecting the best leaves us more exposed than we are comfortable with. (Also, that American style affirmative whooping just makes us Brits break out in cold sweats. There’s no need for whooping. Just stop it.) Dealing with dissapointment is hard & has the potential to make you bitter. Instead hope for the best, plan for the worst. Cover all the bases.

You may feel like Zesty is the last thing you’ll ever be. But acting enthusiastic is sometimes the first step to feeling it and it becomes a habit.

Finally, don’t stop reminding yourself that it’s OK. Whether you’re 13 or 35 we all need reminding that it’s actually ok to feel like you’re sitting at the bottom of a hole when you’re meant to be excited and happy. Roll with it, because actually if you are trying your best then that’s good enough.

Good enough. Is such a mantra now that it’s tattooed along my forearm (alongside beautiful hibiscus flowers which cover up scars that I no longer wish to see). I’m open with the kids I teach about what the tattoo says and that I had it there to remind me and other people that doing your best will always be good enough. (The training behind the flowers is between me & my ink).

This year I’m going to add a semi colon to that. Because I could and previously could’ve chosen to end my sentence; but I chose to carry on with the story.
Hopefully, explaining the reason for my semicolon openly may encourage just one child to keep telling their own story.

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