Optimist, Pessimist or Paranoid? by Erika Guy, Dean of Students
Amidst a lengthy conversation with my sister during the recent spring break, our talk turned to the trials of parenting a 16- and a 19-year-old, each at different but equally difficult periods of their lives. After a long and heartfelt lament, she stated that she felt that “as a parent, you are only as happy as your most miserable kid.” I asked her if she thought that as a parent she was an optimist (sees the glass as half full), a pessimist (sees the glass as half empty) or simply paranoid (thinks someone spit in her drink).
She estimated that she was all three in equal measure, depending on the day.
This conversation led me to think about the work I do with students at Nobles every day - how easy it might be to lapse into the realm of pessimism (or paranoia, for that matter!). We often deal with students at particularly difficult times in their lives (perhaps struggling with family issues, dealing with the aftermath of a lapse in judgment, coming to terms with disappointment or failure, perhaps coping with the burden of depression, etc.). I began thinking about how we do what we do in the Student Life area of the school. If we did not believe deeply in the redemptive power of the high school years and the resilience of most adolescents, ours would be a truly miserable job.
While so much of what we do is reparative, it often is all too easy to become overwhelmed by what is going wrong. A while back, our consulting psychologist, Dr. Rick Wilson, referenced a book we had both recently read -Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. He challenged our Student Life team to make a very slight but conscious shift in our approach to each and every circumstance with students. By becoming the optimists and identifying “the bright spots” with each student, our counseling challenge became so much clearer: identify and build on the bright spots. This ever-so-slight shift in the process paradigm has helped us create the necessary change in many instances. A tertiary benefit has been a more positive climate and environment for all of us.
While we still face the ever-present challenge and tension of defending the process of adolescent development in an environment that is more solution/outcome driven each day, the effect that “searching for the bright spots” has provided is heartening. Given the opening conversation about optimism, pessimism and paranoia, I would encourage all parents to continue to consciously work to find those bright spots.
Thanks for reading,