Online student Bill Adkins reflects on the need to develop resiliency in order to cope with life's challenges.
By Bill Adkins,
Student, Saint Leo University|Online
As I sit here typing this blog for Saint Leo – counting the number of classes I have left before graduation (four!) – I can’t help but think of my first experiences in college over 17 years ago.
When I graduated from high school in 1998, I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life: I was going to teach music and I knew I was going to be great. I had it all planned out: everything from my summer vacation and all four years worth of course curricula through my senior recital, graduation, employment and even graduate school.
Well, by December 2004 – less than a year from graduation – everything had changed for me. I realized that I had absolutely zero clue as to what I would be doing the following months, let alone the years to come.
The only logical conclusion I could come to was to take a break and join the world of the gainfully employed. But, when that so-called short break turned into a much longer one, I realized that I had made a huge mistake by leaving college.
What was even scarier was that I had to admit that my parents were right when they told me to stick it out and finish my degree – that it’s really tough to go back later. Anyone who has left school and gone back – or tried to – will tell you that it’s much more difficult to manage college later in life.
By the time I finally decided to go back to school, I had a lot more responsibilities. I was married, I had two children with a third on the way and I was working fulltime.
What’s more, I was scared. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do it because I knew it was going to be hard.
But that’s life. True, it has plenty of ups, but life is hard and it never really gets any easier.
We just get stronger.
Well, when we fall, we get back up: we learn from our experiences and our mistakes and then we carry on with our lives. This is what we call resiliency.
Developing a healthy respect for failure
Technically speaking, resiliency is defined as an ability to recover or return to our original form after encountering an obstacle. Any way you look at it, I think it's a fairly necessary skill for each of us to learn in order to cope with life’s challenges.
Still, it seems that we’re constantly hearing stories about the current generation and their inability to cope with failure and frustrations. Which leads me to wonder: Are they being shielded from failure? Is it our fault? Should we blame Dr. Spock? Is our society witnessing the downfall of civilization, as we know it? Probably not, but there’s still something to be said about the benefit of developing a healthy respect for failure as a means of building our resiliency.
James Harrison, a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, made a pretty big splash when he posted a video on Instagram telling the world that he planned to return the participation trophies his sons were given.
His reason was that sometimes in life, even when you give 100 percent and you plan and you prepare and you do everything you can to win, you still fail. News flash: that’s life and that’s ok.
Long before the mercy rule existed, I remember playing pee-wee baseball and losing some games by 20 runs. Yet, my teammates and I were never so distraught that we felt the need to blame the other team or the umpires for our loss.
Believe me, I understand the ideals of positive participation and positive reinforcement, but I don’t believe that approach properly prepares any of us for reality – especially when you compare those concepts to something more rationally useful like constructive criticism.
Learning from mistakes
As a musician, I went through middle school, high school and college, preparing for countless auditions and in-class playing tests where I was put on the spot and expected to perform. I don’t remember exactly how many mistakes I made, but there were quite a few.
What I do remember was being taught not to fear my mistakes because they showed me where my weaknesses were. I was taught to use that information to make myself better, to make myself stronger. I was taught to use that work ethic and it eventually put me into a position where I was able to sit in with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. In the right situation (with the right context) failure can teach strength, perseverance and flexibility. Those words, by the way, are all synonyms of resilience.
Online adult learners and resiliency
It’s always seemed strange to me to blame someone else for my own mistakes. It’s even stranger to think that society has created a normative expectation that allows everyone the option to do just that when things don’t go their way.
Without question, I’ve learned more from any of my failures than from my successes and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Do you know why?
It’s because I was taught to be resilient and that is one of the reasons why, in less than eight months, I will be graduating from Saint Leo University with a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
What helped me was when I finally understood the lessons of my mistakes; realized that they were opportunities and learned from them so that I could become a better, stronger version of myself.
In my case, as an adult learner in an online degree program who is also working and raising a family, I can attest to the indelible results associated with higher education and the lessons it continues to teach.
If you’re like me -- an adult returning to college -- I’m sure you can relate. Perhaps, you too regret an earlier decision to delay your degree and maybe you had to admit that your parents were right all along.
On the other hand, if you have not yet made the decision to go back to school because you think it will be too hard at this point in your life – with a job, family and other responsibilities – I would advise you to reconsider.
I suggest that you look at your mistakes in a different light – as experiences from which you can learn and grow. After all, learning from failure has made you stronger, more resilient and, therefore, better equipped to handle the challenges of earning your degree now. As an adult, you’re better able to meet the challenges associated with learning new technology, new information and managing your time.
Of course, I’m not saying that a college degree will make you a more resilient person because it’s not a cure-all. Still, there are measurable, positive correlations between the lessons of perseverance and flexibility that are associated with university responsibilities.
This newfound resiliency, to paraphrase the unrivalled brilliance of Robert Frost, has taught you that everything you’ve learned about life can be summed up into three words: “It goes on.”
So should we.
Bill lives near Tampa, Florida with his wife Beth, three boys – Liam (6), Colin (4) and Dylan (2) – and Louie, the family dog. When he’s not working or doing homework, Bill spends his free time with his family, cooking, reading or catching up on the latest episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead. After graduation, Bill plans to pursue a graduate degree in criminal justice while seeking employment as a research analyst or an intelligence analyst.
Image credits: Zacarias Pereira da Mata on Shutterstock.com and courtesy Bill Adkins