Despite how impressed you are with me today, I wouldn’t have garnered the same impression if you had met me when I was young. Sure, my mom loved me, and my teachers said I was a sweet kid, but I wasn’t taking home any academic awards, nor was I buttering up adults with my wit or charm. In fact, when I was a kid, my parents had plenty to be concerned about as it related to my future potential. I had severe speech delays, was woefully behind in motor skills development, and even attended a preschool designed for kids with special needs. I had occupational and speech therapy for years and was significantly behind in reading. I missed dozens of school days in 4th grade due to anxiety and was painfully shy. As my mom tells it, my primary therapist sat my parents down to level-set their expectations for me. He said, “If Scott graduates high school someday, that would be a huge achievement.”
But, I never saw my past as a predictor of my future.
Defining people by their past—their geographic origins, accomplishments, or failures is how we categorize one another and make mental connections. It’s also a common way to help a kid figure out a path and direction for their career. We look at their grades, for example, and point to the subjects that they seem to excel in compared to the rest. Later, we look at their job history as the best predictor of their path.
But the past rarely gives appropriate context or clues to what’s possible. It's like trying to drive forward while only looking in the rearview mirror. Sure, history offers insights, but it's not the definitive map to one's future.
In my journey, breaking free from the constraints of my early years required a shift in perspective—both mine and those around me. It was about recognizing that potential isn't a static measure, etched in stone by past performances or challenges. Potential is dynamic, evolving with every new experience, every hurdle overcome, and every bit of knowledge gained.
As I progressed through school, my challenges became stepping stones. The same speech delays that once isolated me became the catalyst for my deep appreciation for communication. My struggles in reading turned into a voracious appetite for books, seeking to conquer what once held me back. Each obstacle I surmounted added a layer to my resilience and a chapter to my story.
And it's not just about academic or career achievements. It's about personal growth, the kind that conventional yardsticks can't measure. The shy, anxious kid who missed school days became an individual who learned the value of empathy, the importance of mental health, and the strength in vulnerability.
Looking back, I realize that every experience, no matter how seemingly negative at the time, contributed to the person I am today. I learned to embrace my past, not as a chain holding me back but as a rich tapestry that adds depth and color to my future.
So, as we look at the young people around us, or even when we reflect on our own paths, let’s remember that the story isn’t finished yet. The chapters written in the past are just the beginning. The rest is still being written, with every challenge, every triumph, and every lesson learned along the way. The true measure of potential lies not in where we've been but in where we're willing to go.
For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.
They're uncommon sense ideas, really.
Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).