"No case too small: The Mantra of Dedicated Youth Development Professionals"
“Almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. Only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.” –Joe vs. The Volcano
On this Halloween eve, I realized I should have dressed up as America’s Greatest Boy Detective…Encyclopedia Brown. The kids call him “Encyclopedia” because he is always reading. And when he isn’t reading, he solves the very mysteries and crimes that leave Police Chief Brown (his father) in a state of worry and confusion.
Encyclopedia Brown makes connections. In all of his reading and detailed observations of the world around him, he sees the interconnections that other people miss. That is why he is such a great detective…that, and his recession-friendly pricing of $.25 per day. According to Heather Havrilesky in this week’s New York Times Magazine’s “Riff” column, Encyclopedia is not only a great detective, but a darn good vampire.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Her article, “Steve Jobs: Vampire. Bill Gates: Zombie” discusses “why it’s useful to frame the world through a reductive dichotomy, based on monsters.” Vampires are narcissistic loners; zombies are zealous joiners. Whether that dichotomy is vampires and zombies; the lucky or unlucky; the intelligent or the ingenious; the creative or the steadfast; the experienced or the bookish; the 1 percent or the 99 percent; or any other dichotomy that plays out every day online, in schools, at work, at home, and everywhere else in between, the overarching fact is that these are all parts of The Whole.
And “the whole” is what keeps those of us in youth development wide awake, excited and infinitely optimistic.
Take The Genius of Jobs by author Walter Isaacson. In it, he says that “Bill Gates is super-smart, but Steve Jobs was super-ingenious. The primary distinction, I think, is the ability to apply creativity and aesthetic sensibilities to a challenge.” He goes on to posit that Jobs had the ability, like Benjamin Franklin, “to intuit the relationships between different things.” This ability to use his intuition and creativity to bridge the gap between the humanities and technology, to operate in a world of innovation and invention, is very much what current camp professionals do every single day.
How do we compete with texting, Facebook, Twitter, 3G networks, iClouds, Siri and the nightmarishly extreme amounts of screen time our campers are inundated with every day? Maybe we don’t compete…maybe we complete.
Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen
Jim Collins, of “Good to Great” fame, has written a new book titled, “Great by Choice” with Morten T. Hansen. In it, they examine companies that have “outperformed their industries by a factor of 10 in highly turbulent environments.” These companies are called “10Xers” for “10 times success.” The question the two ask is a fairly simple one: Just what is the role of luck in the success of these companies? In most cases, it isn’t necessarily the type of luck (good or bad) that make or break companies, it is what the companies—and the leaders within them—choose to do with the lucky, or unlucky, events. Bill Gates is lauded as someone who consistently has high ROL (Return on Luck) because “getting a high ROL requires throwing yourself at the luck event with ferocious intensity, disrupting your life and not letting up.” That sounds a great deal like teaching, parenting, and camp counseling.
Bill Gates “kept pushing, driving, working—and sustained that effort for more than two decades.” Maybe he IS more like a plodding zombie with his dogged work ethic, but he has the perseverance, the resilience, and the mindset to achieve great results. Steve Jobs had the creativity, intuition, personality, and ability to execute ideas. In both cases, there was luck, ingenuity, and a hardy dose of non-norming behaviors and ideas. And, in case you didn’t already know from your tech savvy teens, both were college dropouts (and so is Mark Zuckerberg…but that is another post altogether) yet they represent two of the most innovative, creative, and action-oriented individuals of our time.
According to Isaacson, “America’s advantage, if it continues to have one, will be that it can produce people who are also more creative and imaginative, those who know how to stand at the intersection of the humanities and the sciences.” Those who can work well with others and play outside together. Those who can innovate and relate. Those who choose to be awake and amazed.
Growth Mindsets Grow Great Things
What these individuals, living, dead, and undead all have in common is a little thing called a “growth-mindset.” Unfathomable as it might be to Encyclopedia Brown, perhaps someone’s “mindset” is very hard to statistically and scientifically measure and quantify. Yet Carol Dweck’s research has created some very compelling arguments that one cannot only determine if he or she has a “fixed” or “growth” mindset—but that individuals can actually CHANGE their mindsets and overcome great challenges. Similar to Collins and Hansen’s work, it isn’t so much about experiencing bad luck or failure…it is how you deal with it that defines you.
But this isn’t a radical concept to anyone who is committed to working with youth. The greatest moment for a camp counselor, a teacher, a youth leader, a coach, or a parent isn’t when everything works seamlessly—it is when a child who doubts her ability; an athlete who makes a bad play; a student who cheats on an exam; or a camper who worries about the mountain climb/the swim/the zipline/the nurse check-in/the new friends/the different food/the dark/the EVERYTHING—suddenly realizes that moment of failure or challenge is actually an opportunity. Then with, or because of, your supportive help and guidance, that child is able to get through the experience and grow.
The View at The Top
At that very moment, a child exhibits a true strength and sense of self that will continue to shape the path of his life. If he has the opportunity to break outside of the social norms of school and home life, he will gain more confidence in creatively expressing his ideas, take more chances in positive risk taking environments, learn that failure is requisite to success, and build up a stockpile of perseverance and resilience through his unique, personal and rare relationships and experiences. He will see himself, not as a narcissistic vampire or a mindless zombie, but as a creative, functional, “awake” human being.
These individuals are ones who can not only see, but will DO something with the interconnections around them. These individuals will solve some of the great mysteries of life, and will deeply enjoy being part of the whole. And, as Encyclopedia Brown would deduce, these individuals probably all went to camp, or had other remarkable adult mentors, educators, supporters, and youth development professionals along the way.
I rest my case.