Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), was an American educator, author and advisor to US Presidents as well as a prominent leader in the African American community. He once said “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles overcome while trying to succeed."
If you look at the life journeys of successful people you will almost always find a major obstacle, or several, that they had to overcome on the path to their success.
We’ve all heard that tough times build character, that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Have you ever wondered why great hurdles create great men and women? What do we learn from overcoming major obstacles or completing an almost impossible task that sets us up for success?
Facing a challenging situation teaches us new things. Sometimes it teaches us simply to be better problem solvers but sometimes the solution is a skill or task that we did not know before.
We learn perseverance, and patience. We’ve all heard Edison’s famous quote that he didn’t fail, he simply found 1,000 ways that didn’t work. When we don’t give up and are able to reach success we have learned how to persevere and the reward for that perseverance.
This is what Dr. Carol Dweck meant when she coined the term “growth mindset” in describing the beliefs people have about learning and intelligence. When students believe they can get smarter and understand that effort makes them stronger they will put in the extra time and effort required to be successful.
Overcoming obstacles can help build inner strength and shows us what we’re made of. When facing one of life’s many difficulties we can either crumble into a ball, hiding and hoping the problem will go away or we can straighten our backs, step up and do better. If we choose the latter, we will likely work harder, be smarter, stand stronger and keep trying until we’ve overcome the obstacle. Once you’ve succeeded, you look back and think “I didn’t know I could do that” or “I never thought I could handle that situation”.
And once you know what you’re made of and what you’re capable of, your confidence and self-image will improve immensely.
You know the feeling: “If I can do that I can do anything!”
If you happen to overcome an obstacle as part of a team or group, you’ve also learned how to trust and rely on others; how to be reliable and accountable; how to work together and collaborate on solutions and you have developed a sense of belonging.
This is why Robert Land Academy undertakes one of our most important school events right before Thanksgiving, just five weeks into the school year.
The Fall Exercise is a three-day hike along the Niagara Escarpment and to Queenston Heights in Niagara-on-the-Lake – a walk of just under 70km.
The boys do this hike while carrying with them all of the provisions the companies will need for each day and, on the third day, while sharing the work of pulling the cannon used in ceremonies at the end of the exercise.
It’s a tough three days. I know, I’ve done it.
Many of our students haven’t experienced a great deal of big accomplishments when they arrive on campus for a number of reasons: they haven’t put in the effort; they haven’t been pushed to reach their potential; they’ve never learned the tools or self-discipline to be successful; or they’ve been in situations or displayed behaviors that caused teachers and parents to overlook their ability.
So we take every single one of them out for a 70km walk.
After the three days we have a group of boys who have completed a very tough exercise and overcome some hurdles along the way. The know they can accomplish The Fall Exercise and it gives them the confidence to know they can accomplish almost anything life throws at them; the confidence in their ability to do the little things too, like a tough math exam or earn a university acceptance; and to know who they are and the strength they have.
Accomplishing the three-day hike together, all the while carrying their provisions, requires the kids to work together to finish the hike. When they are done they have come to rely on each other, inspire and push each other, help and support each other, and understand what it means to belong to something larger than themselves.
Staff and students are already training for the event which gets underway on Oct. 2. We are expecting several guests from other military academies this year and we are all looking forward to the experience.
Check back here on Oct. 2, 3 and 4 for daily updates from The Fall Exercise along with photos of the event.