I’ve seen many students in my career, and he was up there among the most anxious I’ve ever seen. On our first day of fire challenges, he sat slumped by his twigs, berating his failure (it typically takes much trial and error before students start getting consistent success with fire-making).
To be honest, I was nervous about assigning him a role to lead in class – but as he started seeing the other students leading, he wanted to join in!
When he was Master of Games, it didn’t go that well – he had a hard time mobilizing his peers, and kept getting discouraged. But he tried, and he got through the day.
Then he was Storyteller. According to his mother, he practiced his story all week and was super anxious about it. She even asked me if it might be possible to have students opt-in to leadership roles, and not have us assign them...
And when he got to class, for the longest time he just couldn’t bring himself to share the story, although the other boys in the group were very supportive and encouraging. (I don’t remember anymore if he shared it that week, or the following week - but he did eventually share it!)
This was the day that Trevor first came to check out our program. To be honest, I was kind of nervous – what would he think about this student-led format where the student storyteller can’t even share his story?
At the end of the day we gathered up for our debrief. I explained that: courage is not fearlessness, but is acting in spite of one’s fear. That I was proud of the student for pushing into his fear, and that each of us are called to do so in our own lives. If we are never terrified, it’s a sign of cowardice, not courage – of always playing it safe and not leaving our comfort zone.
Trevor loved the program - and he soon replaced me as the group’s instructor. As the months passed by, I would ask about this student, and would hear how he was doing better and better, how his confidence and attitude were improving.
Then, in his second year of the program, I would hear about how he was taking younger students under his wing as a mentor in his own right!
This past spring when Trevor was doing film work in Italy, I subbed for him at our annual Spring Overnight and Field Day.
I could hardly believe my eyes!
This very same student, now 11 years-old, coordinating and leading the event – confidently addressing and organizing our adult guests into groups without any direction, or Trevor even being there.
The transformation was remarkable, was this the same student?!
How did this happen?
There are 3 main factors that come to my mind:
- Uncomfortable challenges – If the student had only self-selected challenges, he may never have dared take on what he found intimidating. It was overcoming the intimidation of leading his peers that was key to his gradually developing courage and fortitude.
- A supportive community of staff and students – Trevor and I set the tone for a supportive group, and the students were able to develop a certain level of trust and support that helped everyone push personal limits and grow.
- Time and patience – I know it was very difficult for the parents (and at times for us) to watch the student struggle with his anxiety. It was tempting to just back off, and lessen the challenge, perhaps to pull him out. But if he had left the program at the peak of his struggle, it could have reinforced and strengthened his self-doubt! I'm so glad he and his family had the faith to persevere and make it through that forest of fears.