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What We Gain When We Struggle

by | Jun 2, 2019

The Gift of the Unknown

With graduation season upon us, I started thinking back to mine, both from high school and college. When I graduated from high school, there was no doubt about it, I was going to college. My whole high school career had been working toward college acceptance. It was what was expected of me.

When I graduated from college, though, my path was not as clear. I entered thinking I would graduate and move on to veterinary school. Partway through my college career though, I realized I didn’t really want to become a veterinarian. And when graduation time came, I was still no closer to figuring out what I wanted to do instead. So much so that I put “Now what?” on my cap.

All of my friends had already accepted jobs and would be starting their “adult” lives. I, however, ended up signing up for an extension course to study the ecology of Australia. The class would culminate in a trip there to see the different ecosystems we had studied.

After the course was finished, I ended up staying in Australia with a few friends and then on my own (once they had to head back for their last year of college). I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, this experience was a huge gift.

Real-life College Graduate Struggles

Even though I had been living away at school for the previous four years—working, studying, and managing everything associated with living on my own—I didn’t really have to struggle. Financially, I was covered between grants for school, working to cover my other expenses, and occasional help from my parents. For household things, I had roommates to figure things out with. I went to school and work and hung out with my friends. Things were relatively easy.

When I was in Australia on my own though, nothing was figured out. I wasn’t working, so there was no money coming in and I had to manage the money I had saved up to make sure it lasted. I had to navigate my way around the country, deciding where I wanted to go and then figure out how I was going to get there and where I was going to stay.

I needed to check in with my family, have things planned out enough so they could have an itinerary of what I was doing and where I would be so my parents didn’t worry, and, basically, have my wits about me to stay safe as a single female traveling on my own.

Although I had a blast, my time abroad was not all fun. I struggled. I wondered what the heck I had been thinking when I planned on staying there by myself. I floundered a few times with getting from one place to the next and finding a place to stay when the bus dropped me off in a new location in the middle of the night.

But I’m thankful my parents gave me the opportunity to experience everything I did and to struggle through it. When I came home from that trip, I was a different person. I had experience behind me, both success and failure, that allowed me to move into my future more confidently.

Monumental Toddler Struggles

As parents, I think this is one of the best things we can do for our kids. Is it easy to stand back and watch our children struggle or fail? No. Is it necessary though? Yes. When my oldest was a toddler, I remember hearing a teacher talk about how she could, very clearly, see what parents did for their children at home. 

She said that when children were doing certain tasks, they would get so far and then just stop, or if they got frustrated, they would just give up and wait. She could clearly see that this was the point in which their parent would step in.

This stayed with me and when I found myself stepping in to “help” or “fix” something, I had to purposefully stop myself and allow my daughter to struggle. It wasn’t easy, but I clearly saw the benefit. By overcoming these small-to-me things, my daughter was developing her skills, building her confidence and self-esteem, and overcoming her own struggles. To her, these struggles were monumental.

College Bound?

We’re not near high school graduation just yet, but when the time does arrive, moving on to college will not just be what is blindly expected of my daughters. As my travels through Australia taught me, college is not the only way to gain life experiences or learn necessary skills to succeed in life.

Going off to college, now, doesn’t even guarantee a job when you graduate. If anything, it just means you’ll most likely be in debt as you start off. So instead of blindly telling my daughters that they need to go to college, I tell them that depending on what they want to do at that point in their life, college might be an option, but it also might not be the best thing to do.

We’ll wait and see what their interests are at that point and what career they want to pursue. If college is the best way to go about reaching their goals, then I will be all for it. If, however, a noncollege route would be best, then I’ll be all for that as well.

In the meantime, I’ll be doing everything I can until we reach that point to make sure they are as prepared for life as they can be. How will I go about doing that? Well, explore Raising Families’ website and take some of our courses and you’ll get a pretty good idea.

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Carolyn Savage

Carolyn is a writer, proofreader, and editor. She has a background in wildlife management but pivoted to writing and editing when she became a mother. In her "free time" she is a 4th Dan (degree) Kukkiwon certified black belt in Taekwondo, loves learning to craft from her enormously talented children, and then teaching what she's learned to her enormously talented grandmother. Read full bio >>