“Sweetheart, No Thank You.” I’ve probably said this a 100 times to young girls standing outside of a grocery store selling Girl Scout Cookies. I was having a conversation with coworkers recently and we were discussing the deliciousness and exclusivity of Girl Scout Cookies. Everyone loves them and they only come around once a year. Momentarily, we all agreed that if they sold them in stores year round the brand would make a killing. While that may or may not be true, I hope we never find out. Why? It’s such a valuable lesson for these young kids to learn how to ask perfect strangers to buy their product and be told ‘no’, over and over and over again.
Resilience, perseverance, self-confidence, and politeness… all things I imagine you would have to develop in order to be successful in selling cookies each year. You might also have a set of well connected parents who may be pushing the products for you. That’s a shame because they might be robbing those young people of one of the most valuable lessons that they will ever learn: perseverance in the face of rejection and failure. I would argue that the inability to deal with rejection and failure is the core reason many people don’t begin making the changes in their lives that they desire to make. Especially as adults. When we get older it seems like we obsess over the appearance of having it all figured out. Maybe we all need to start selling Girl Scout Cookies?
It’s Not The Kids
A few years back I had a job working with high school students helping them develop career skills and think through what they wanted to do with their future. I ended up leaving that role after only a few months with the school. People kept making the assumption that it was the kids that caused me to walk away. I would reply, “Yeah the kids can be rough sometimes but I can understand that from a teenager. It’s the behavior of the adults that drove me crazy! The Grown Ups are the reason I walked away.”
We love asking children to adapt, evolve, and change without doing it ourselves. We love asking kids to sit and be still and concentrate for long periods of time but how many adults do you know who have that ability? We love asking kids to be patient in their desires for nice clothes, phones, or other material things but adults are constantly overstretching themselves financially to have big toys like houses, cars, motorcycles, boats etc. And there’s all the subscriptions people have now: wine club, streaming content, Amazon Prime, gyms, beefy phone data plans, etc.
Adults in America are distracted, anxious, chronically stressed, financially strapped, physically fragile and we’re constantly asking ourselves why our kids are this way?
Start Selling Cookies
The big challenge in adulthood might be developing a sense of when you are on a path of constant desperation and it’s not obvious. If a child’s parents were on drugs and their home was total squalor, we would recognize immediately the issues of instability in that child’s environment. However, if those parents drive late model cars, live in a decent neighborhood, and both have middle-class jobs it might be harder to recognize the bad examples being set in that environment. After all, all the trappings of a high quality life are there. Maybe it’s lost on the parents that everyone spends most of the evening with their heads buried in their own personal devices. Maybe it’s lost on the parents that no one in the house is exercising on a regular basis. Maybe it’s lost on the parents that there are so many extra curricular activities happening that the family hasn’t sat and connected with one another in 4 or 5 months. Maybe it’s lost on the parents that their anxiety around living paycheck-to-paycheck to maintain their lifestyle is starting to fracture their relationship with their kids. Why? Because all the ‘right’ things are happening according to broad social narratives. It’s easy to feel like you’re doing what you’re supposed to as a parent in the second scenario because these are socially accepted metrics of a ‘good’ life, however shallow they might be.
I get asked by parents all the time about how we can help kids become stronger mentally. I used to get asked similar questions when I was a personal trainer. My answer has become very simple: You, as an adult, need to set a goal that is personally meaningful and that forces you to engage with rejection and/or failure repeatedly. You need to let your child watch you persist in that process. As a parent, you need to find your own version of Girl Scout Cookies and start selling… metaphorically.
I don’t know that this fixes anything and I don’t think our objective should ever be to ‘fix’ someone. However, it seems like the most fundamental aspect of teaching a character trait to someone else (child or adult) is to display it in our own behavior first.