The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
Despite what he meant to me, I won’t tell you his name; that privilege was signed away as part of camp counselor protocol.
I moved myself under the rock wall. The dense heat rising from the tire pieces covering the floor paired with the green light reflecting from a nearby slide created an environment that was warm, albeit unusual. One of his hands fiddled with the knotted necklace around his neck, while the other was wrapped around his knees as if to indicate that my presence was not wanted. Even as I placed myself next to him, his dark eyes remained cast down.
“The others are playing cops and robbers,” I started in a tone bright enough to parallel my strikingly yellow camp counselor t-shirt, “You could be a cop?”
“I don’t like cops” he murmured.
“Well you could be a robber then,” I suggested.
“You think I like to steal?” he said pointedly, looking up at me for the first time.
I hastily assured him that I didn’t, and asked what he actually liked to do instead. Well, he liked a lot of things. Large dark guns were one, a very unusual card game another. But it wasn’t until he started describing medieval torture methods, however, that I began plotting my escape. I looked around anxiously. Finally, an angel appeared: my perfectly blonde, perfectly articulate and, most importantly, perfectly normal five-year-old saving grace. I followed her away. His eyes followed me as I left.
I felt absolutely fine with it; relieved even. It wasn’t until I was walking home at the end of the day did I realize something.
I had failed. Completely and utterly.
Years of complex chemistry labs and hopeless math exams and somehow, someway, this child who stood only slightly higher than my hip was a problem I could not solve. He was all too unfamiliar, and for that reason I was all too scared. But not uncharacteristically, I was still determined.
I sat next to him, under that rock wall, every day during free play that week. Every day I would try talking to him, and some days he would even talk back. I found out he liked to draw, and for the next weeks I would bring in a little three pack of crayons and a piece of printer paper I kept folded in my pocket. Some days, he would even let me color with him. At nights, I would read through books, articles, anything I could find to help me figure him out. I would talk to my friends, family, anyone that would listen, just trying to gather advice. Gradually, slowly, I learned about his cultural background, his family life, what his future would look like. Everything. I used what I now knew, and what I already had seen to begin connecting with him.
One day, he wasn’t sitting under the rock wall.
One day, he was sitting on top.
It wasn’t one thing I said or thought or did that had him sitting up there. It was rather a combination of things. A combination of approaches, ideas, and emotions. At first I searched the books for a clear answer; but as I found, the theoretical world can only act as a guide. A problem that complex could only be solved by the emotional mosaic that makes us human, not the black and white lettering in any textbook. Human experience, empathy, and intuition are all factors in complex problem solving, and that’s what I felt as I used every ounce of whatever was inside me to peel him apart layer by layer. And that’s what I feel now as I solve problems in my everyday life. I put it in context. I rely on my gut. I learn as much as I can. That’s what he taught me, that little boy who stood only slightly higher than my hip. He taught me to think.
And I’m sorry I cannot tell you his name.