(This is an excerpt from the Trekker Tracker, the monthly community newsletter. Sign up here!)
In this clip from 1972, Holocaust survivor and leading psychiatrist Viktor Frankl talks about the importance of optimism. He says “if you don’t recognize a young man’s will for meaning, search for meaning, you make him worse, you make him dull, you make him frustrated…while if you presuppose…there must be a spark of search for meaning, let’s recognize this…then you will elicit it from him and you will make him become what he in principle is capable of becoming.”
Across the six years a student is in Trekkers, we measure 16 areas of social-emotional wellbeing, optimism being one. Generally, we see a 10% dip in optimism in 10th grade. We can speculate reasons why, but helping students learn how to stay optimistic in moments of challenge is a cornerstone of building resilience.
“…Having a positive outlook in difficult circumstances not only is an important predictor of resilience—how quickly people recover from adversity—but it is the most important predictor of it..” (The Atlantic)
According to the above article, finding optimism in times of trauma comes from a desire to find meaning, a silver lining, in adversity. This practice is a critical part of our work. When we ask students to journal, we most often are asking them to do the honest, rigorous, introspective work of reflecting on their experience, building their own perspective, making choices and drawing meaning from any experience they can use as they move forward into the future.
This helps students thrive, no matter what their other strengths are. Choosing to take a positive view helps fuel a future of living with intention, developing a sense of self, and an ability to strive towards goals, even when being thrown off-course. In the past two years, our team has seen Trekkers students exhibit the same types of anxieties and challenges as their peers; but many have also shown unwavering optimism. This is what we hope students can retain from the Trekkers experience – learning how to bravely absorb challenge as a form of growth.