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So What?: A Lesson in Resiliency

Part of being resilient is realizing that none of us ever really knows where we are in the big picture of life. Moments which feel like failure right now may turn out to be positive stepping-stones in a much larger process. In the middle of what feels like a disaster, we may be learning valuable lessons that will serve us now and in the future.

When Cal was in high school, he had one of those moments that, at the time, could easily have been seen as a “failure,” but which, in fact, turned out to be one of the most important turning points of his life.

So What?: A Lesson in Resiliency

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.”
Dr. Maya Angelou

Through high school, I was at best an average student. I earned mostly Cs, some Bs, a few Ds, and occasionally an A. After taking an aptitude test to determine what I might be capable of doing after high school, I sat uncomfortably across the desk from the counselor to discuss my future.

He asked, “What do you want to do after you graduate?”

I responded, “I don’t know exactly what I want, but I know I want to go to college.”

Based on my test results and his perception of my future struggles in college, he recommended that I capitalize on my great manual dexterity, as demonstrated by my high scores in “washer stacking,” and go to trade school to pursue a career as a typesetter.

I left the room believing that he had told me I wasn’t smart enough or capable enough to go to college. Perhaps he didn’t say that exactly, but I am certain to this day that that is what he meant. I was devastated.

When I got home, the first person I saw was my mother. She could tell that something was bothering me, and even though I tried denying it, she was gently persistent, as a good mother should be. Eventually, I broke down and told her about my experience. She looked me in the eyes and said two words to me: “So what?”

She elaborated, “So what if you have to study harder than others? That man doesn’t know your desire. So what if you have to work harder? That man doesn’t know anything about your work ethic. So what if school is hard for you? That man doesn’t know anything about your talents and hidden abilities.” She went on to help me understand that if I wanted a college education badly enough, that man holding my test scores couldn’t stop me.

That day, my mother motivated me and helped me understand that if I wanted a college education, then it was up to me. She planted seeds of self-esteem and belief in myself. She helped me become more resilient, which I surely needed to get through college!

I went on to college and graduated with a BS degree, a master of public health degree, and finally a PhD. In hindsight, I realize that this little teaching moment with my mom, when my future looked bleak and I felt like such a failure, was one of those major turning points in my life.

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