The Two Thousand Year Old Stoics and My Kids
Updated: Nov 19
The assignment: write a speech acknowledging the challenges Odysseus overcame and give an example about your own personal challenge that you overcame.
This assignment was for one of my eighth grade students. He’s been with me since fifth grade so the trust factor within my office walls is pretty high and the candor and vulnerability flows freely. At one tutoring session, my student wanted me to check his outline for that speech assignment. He chose to speak about a few years ago, when he had a negative attitude and a certain mindset and how that impacted how he did in school. I loved the fearlessness and vulnerability he showed in using this example. But I felt that something was missing. I asked him if we could discuss the speech further to help me better understand. That was the beginning of this exchange...
My student described for me how in 7th grade he knew that school was going to be harder than “lower school” - which is what his school calls grades K-6. Armed with that knowledge, he almost self sabotaged in every situation. I can remember he would come in to me and we would get into it because I would tell him to not make it harder than it was. He would consistently not say the answer or write the sentence out of a fear that what he was thinking was too easy. His attitude would dip and this moody kid would emerge, ready to give up on everything. It was just too hard, it just could not be done. He convinced himself that the answer was more complex and much harder because upper school was going to be harder than lower school. It just couldn’t be that simple.
He then described one particular talk that we had where it all came together.
I have a Ryan Holiday quote on my wall, “It is not enough to wish. One must act- and act right.” My student said he noticed that he always wished for that A on a paper, but didn’t do anything to get that A. He had no plan of action and did nothing to obtain that wish.
With that, he started with one small step, going in for extra help. He said it boosted his confidence because he started to understand the material better. That was a small win and a small start. From that he continued to go in after school because he felt that he was getting more teaching hours. He said material that wasn’t covered in class was covered in extra help so he felt smarter. And all that was the small wins momentum he needed to make the change into a habit.
He explained to me that having the belief or mindset that everything should stay hard is harmful. It made him so unhappy. He explained we “know” that something is hard because it’s new and different, that’s a given. But believing that change or newness should be hard, caused him a lot of harm. It made him stuck, especially when the hard things transitioned to easy.
He went on to explain that everyone has negativity within them. He continued, "It’s like Lord of the Flies, where everyone has the potential for evil within them, but the challenge is to overcome the belief by doing actions to change. That’s the stuff within your control and you can change by yourself."
He said, “Don’t focus on things being hard because literally everything will be hard at first.” This leads to feeling stuck and falling behind in life because you just sit and believe it’s just too hard.
He then took a page from WOOP, and reminded himself that “If I can do this, how will I feel if I finish it or accomplish it.” He finished with, “there’s always a way to do it and you just have to figure it out.”
Did you catch all that solid goodness? He believed it wasn’t too hard to “get” and therefore it no longer was. He believed it wasn’t so serious or heavy and therefore it no longer was and it turned into fun. He believed he could with small steps and therefore he did.
Talk about some serious courage to do “right actions”… with a little push from the two thousand years old Stoics and Ryan Holiday.
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