Nurturing Resilience in Youth
I'd like to share my slides and content with you from a resent story I told to an Extension audience.
Building Resilient Youth Talking Points
The story of the Wright Brothers & Samuel Langley
Slide 1: It was the end of the 19th-century and the promise of new technology was changing the way people imagined the future. The new technology of the day was the airplane and their was a race to see who could figure it out.
Slide 2: One of the best-known men in the field was Samuel Langley. Like many other inventors of his day he was attempting to build the world's first heavier-than-air flying machine. The goal was to be the first to achieve machine-powered controlled, manned flight. The good news was Langley had all the right ingredients for the enormous task. He had what many define as the recipe for success.
Slide 3: Langley had achieved some distinction within the academic community as an astronomer, which earned him high-ranking and prestigious positions. He was secretary of the Smithsonian institution. He had been an assistant in the Harvard College Observatory and professor of mathematics at the United States Naval Academy.
Slide 4: Langley was very well-connected. His friends included some of the most powerful men in government and business including: Andrew Carnegie and Alexander Graham Bell (Connections). His $50,000 grant from the War Department meant he was well-funded and money was no object (Funding). He pulled together the best minds of the day, a bona fide dream team of talent and know-how (People). Samuel and his team use the finest materials and The New York Times followed him everywhere. Everyone knew Langley and was rooting for his success. People all over the country were riveted to the story, waiting to read that he achieved his goal with the team he had gathered and ample resources, his success was guaranteed.
Slide 5: But few of us have ever heard of Samuel Langley…Why?
Slide 6: A few hundred miles away, Wilbur and Orville Wright were working on their own flying machine. The passion to fly was so intense that it inspired the enthusiasm and commitment a dedicated group in their home town of Dayton, Ohio (People). There was no funding for their venture (No Funding). No high-level connections (Connections). Not a single person on the team had an advanced degree or even a college education, not even Wilbur or Orville. But the team banded together in a humble bicycle shop and made their vision real.
And we've all heard of the Wright brothers, right?
Slide 7: How did the Wright brothers succeed where a better-connected, better-equipped, better-funded and better-educated team could not? Both the Wrights and Langley had motivation, work ethic, scientific minds. They had the same goal. But only the Wright brothers were successful in developing a technology that would change the world.
Slide 8: This is really a story about resilience and the difference it makes.
Slide 9: What people get wrong about resilience is they focus on overcoming difficulty (defeat or prevail) rather than learning to push through. This is wrong, and the Wright brothers taught us a very important principle of resiliency—they succeeded with flight because they reoriented their relationship to fear, pain, and suffering.
Slide 10: The Wright’s did not come from an ideal situation.
It’s not widely known that Orville and Wilbur both battled depression and family illness before starting the bicycle shop that would lead them to experimenting with flight.
Orville was labelled a mischief maker and was once expelled from school. He dropped out of school after his junior year to start a printing business with the press he and Wilbur had built. The brothers launched a weekly, then daily newspaper.
Slide 11: Wilbur didn’t graduate from high school either. He was accidentally struck in the face by a hockey stick while ice-skating with friends. He lost his front teeth and gave up athletics becoming withdrawn. He had planned to go to Yale but instead was housebound, caring for his mother who was terminally ill with Tuberculosis.
Slide 12: The brothers opened a bicycle repair and sales shop and went on to manufacture their own brand of bicycles. They used the revenues from their bicycle shop to fund their venture into flight.
Slide 13: The brothers' fundamental breakthrough was their invention of three-axis control, which enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain its equilibrium. This method became and remains standard on fixed-wing aircraft of all kinds.
Slide 14: "The Idea of Innate Talent is Mistaken” - G. Colvin
The Wright brothers were not the strongest contenders in the race to take the first machine-powered controlled, manned flight but they led us into a new era of aviation and in doing so, completely changed the world we live in.
Were the Wright brothers prodigies? Gifted? The idea of innate talent is mistaken. There is no such thing as innate talent. The only real "gift" we are given is interest. The Wright brothers had “interest.” When when we have a natural interest in something it doesn't feel like work. Others may consider it work, but you don’t. Anyone can can lose this gift if the resiliency within them is not nurtured.
Slide 15: "Fearlessness is a false idea” - J. Waitzkin
Were the Wright brothers fearless?
No, the Wright brothers felt fear, they just learned how sit with it, work with it, channel it - that’s what made them resilient. Fearlessness is a false idea. The Wright brothers learned how to harness their fear, nerves, and anxiety, bring them in, embrace them, work with them, have a working relationship with them. Essentially they altered their definition of fear.
The Wright brothers learned to embrace fear, pain, and suffering. They learned to see the beauty in the moments where there is pain because that’s where they realized there is incredible room for growth.
The Wright brothers did not have anything close to the recipe of success. People with "their kinds of problems" should not have been able to accomplish what they did. Actually, they had what looked more like a recipe for failure. But what the Wright brothers had was resilience.
Slide 16: Wilbur and Orville were genuinely concerned with the problem they were trying to solve because they believed it would change the world (they had interest).
Conversely, Langley was consumed with attaining a level of prestige. He did not have a passion for aviation, but rather he was looking for achievement. Langley wanted to be first. He wanted to be rich and famous. This was his driving motivation. He craved the fame of Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell. The kind that only comes with inventing something big. Langley saw the airplane as his ticket to fame and fortune he was smart and motivated he had what we will assume is the recipe for success: 1. Plenty of cash, 2. The best people, and 3. Ideal market conditions. Or was it?
Slide 17: On December 17, 1903, on a field in Kitty Hawk, NC the Wright brothers took flight.
With failure after failure, most others would have given up. The Wright brothers were so resilient that no matter how many setbacks they suffered, they would show up for more. In fact, everytime the Wright brothers went out to make a test flight, they would take 5 sets of of parts with them, because they knew how many times they were likely to fail before deciding to go home for the day. They planned for failure.
Slide 18: A short time after Orville and Wilbur took flight, Langley quit. He got out of the aviation business. He could have decided to work with the Wrights and improve upon their technology. Instead, he found the defeat humiliating. His own test flight had landed in the Potomoac River and the newspapers made fun of him. He cared so much of what others thought of him, he was not first so he quit. Langley was not resilient enough to push through the difficult time.
Slide 19: What do youth need in order to nurture the kind of resilience within that the Wright brothers had? The 7 C's of Resiliency:
Slide 20: “Encouragement to pursue intellectual interests.” - Orville Wright
Unconditional Love gives children the deep-seated security that allows them to take chances when then need to adapt to new circumstances and the knowledge that in the long run will all be okay.
Expectations Young people live up or down to their parents expectations. As children’s most powerful models, parents are in the best position to teach them about stress and resilience.
Confidence is an essential ingredient of resilience and can be nurtured at any time in life. Just as we develop and strengthen our muscles by exercising them, we can develop resilience by paying attention to those strengths and building on them. We are always communicating, even when we are not talking. Reframe your messages to focus on the positive.
Support System: Resilience is not a character trait. It’s about a support system.
Progression: Resilience is usually defined as the ability to bounce back or recover from adversity. Or, the power or ability to return to the original form or position. But what’s better that original form? Growth, change, progression.
Resilience already exists within us: It’s not to be acquired, it's to be nurtured.
Address risk: prepare youth to be leaders in the future.
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Paul Hill, Ph.D.
I design, plan, and evaluate economic development programs for Utah State University.
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