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evarist_bartolo
Evarist Bartolo

It won’t always be sunshine and rainbows

One of the first barriers to be torn down in alternative learning programmes is young people being branded as failures. We must make them believe in themselves and their abilities

evarist_bartolo
Evarist Bartolo
2 August 2017, 7:30am
The ability to persist is one of the most crucial life skills we can learn
The ability to persist is one of the most crucial life skills we can learn
It was the year 2000 and a little-known politician called Barack Obama had just got his backside kicked in his very first race for Congress. It was a depressing time for him as debts mounted and he wasn’t getting anywhere in politics. He headed for the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles but couldn’t even afford to rent a car (a big problem in LA) as he was maxed out on his credit card. When he finally made it to the convention his accreditation was denied.

“I spent the rest of the week as the guy in the room whom nobody knew, but everyone knew didn’t belong,” Obama reminisced. 

Only four years later he was asked to address the Democratic Convention. It was the turning point in his life, leading to the Senate and the White House.

Now put yourself in his shoes. He had just had a couple of children. He had a lucrative career in law waiting for him in Chicago, New York or anywhere he wanted.

Who wouldn’t have chosen the easy path and just thrown in the towel on politics? It was the obvious choice. But he persisted until he succeeded.

The story is interesting because not many people know about it. A lot has been written about his childhood, with material taken from his autobiographies, but not this part of his life. Many look at him and see someone who finds everything easy, with success everywhere he goes. They didn’t witness the difficult journey leading to it. In today’s world of Instagram and instant success, not many are ready to choose the rough road to achieve their dreams. 

The ability to persist is one of the most crucial life skills we can learn. To know when there is still some fuel left and push forward. To be able to contain your defeats and mould them into a way forward. I might be the first and last Education Minister to quote Rocky Balboa, but a gem that remains with me is the following:

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place... and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently, if you let it. You, me or nobody, is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit... It’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward... how much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now, if you know what you worth, go out and get what you worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits. And not pointing fingers saying: You ain’t what you wanna be because of him or her or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that.”

Can these skills be taught?

I do think that our schools lack these types of life skills: the ability to persist, work together, motivate oneself and aspire to improve the environment around us. If not taught, there should at least be exposure to them. We have to reject the notion that school is simply about academia and work closer with the individual. Despite what it seems, we do have a self-confidence issues among young people. Rather than a bullish outlook on life, which is what you’d expect from the youth, many have low self-confidence in their abilities and themselves. 

If we want successful people we must take a holistic approach and not a strictly educational one. One of the first barriers to be torn down in alternative learning programmes is young people being branded as failures. We must make them believe in themselves and their abilities.

Life won’t always be sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it will be difficult and we might think there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. As educators, but especially as family members, we have to make sure our young people are equipped with the mindset for these challenges. Academic subjects are important, but the road to personal achievement is paramount.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister of Education and Employment

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