I recently gave a “Pep Talk” to 75 high school second semester juniors. These students have self-selected into the most rigorous program our school offers, the IB Diploma. At our high school, this is a program that any junior can enter – they don’t have to be invited or test in, as is the case at most other high schools’ IB Diploma programs. However, as a result of it’s rigor and demands, only a small percentage of our juniors opt in.
When students step up to take on the most challenging programs or activities a school offers, it’s important to remember that they need our continued support along the way. Even though they are capable and motivated, we still need to provide them with adult wisdom and guidance. Just because they’re smart doesn’t mean school will always be easy for them, and for many that’s a sobering realization. They’ll have ups and downs, no matter how smart they are, or how devoted they seem to a given path. Validating how they’re feeling, and giving them tips on how to be successful, helps to keep them motivated and confident.
Written below is what I said to these high school students. Maybe you can modify it to be useful to you in some way, as you encourage students facing stress and challenge in your own school.
You are here. Everything you’ve done in your life so far, has led you here. To this IB Diploma program. To this room. Your curious nature as you were growing up, your interest in knowing and in learning about the world around you, your desire to be engaged in life and not just sit on the sidelines, your ability to work hard and learn from your successes and your failures, the affirmations and guidance you received from parents, teachers, and friends along the way, your own belief in your own capabilities. Also, whether you grew up in Boulder, transferred schools, or moved to this area from somewhere else. All these things have led you to this room. To the Diploma.
Some of you are excited, some are worried, some are overwhelmed, some are scared to death, and some are relieved to finally get to this level in high school. But make a firm commitment to believe in yourself and what you are capable of doing. Because you made it here. To this room.
So, this is your life. This is what you signed up for. What are some of the things you’ll experience in the process of doing the Diploma? And, what are some of the things that will help you be successful in it?
Right now you have your eyes on the prize… the coveted IB Diploma. But is it worth it to you to do what it will take to get you there? And do you have the right mindset to get you there? You need to want it, and you need to believe you can get there.
So what will you do when some days (or, many days) you won’t have the energy or confidence to do what’s expected of you? Your internal dialogue has a huge influence on whether you can do it or not. Some days you’re literally not going to “feel” it. You’ll have those conversations in your head, “It’s too hard.” “I can’t do this” “What was I thinking?” “Why even try?” “I’m not cut out for this. ”We need to talk to our Selves, instead of letting our Selves talk to us. Most of our unhappiness in life happens because we are still letting our Self talk negatively to us.
This Self of ours has got to be handled. Remind your Self of what you know, instead of allowing it to drag you down and handle you. This isn’t about blind faith and false pretenses. When you start to doubt yourself, think back to times you were able to succeed.
Have faith in yourself. It’s important that you keep telling yourself you can do it, even when you’re in doubt. When you start to doubt yourself, think about all the times you worked really hard and it paid off. And how good that felt.
Think about how you felt when you were told all about the requirements of the Extended Essay. What was some of the negative self-talk you experienced? What was some of the positive self-talk?
And, are you a person that goes through scenarios in your mind over something totally fictional that have no bearing on your real life? You blow something up and imagine the worst-case scenario? How you’ll fail this test and then fail the class and then not get the Diploma, not get into the college of your choice, not have a good career, and be a failure in life? The fear of being mediocre is a very real fear for many of you.
We all have baggage. What baggage are you carrying with you coming in to the Diploma program? Most of you learned that you’re not the only one struggling with baggage and negative self talk. But in order to reach the finish line, you’ll have to let some of it go. It will weigh you down and cause you to fail or to quit.
It’s also important to be in full acknowledgement of what you’re feeling. “I’m scared, but I’m still going through with this”, or, “I’m overwhelmed but I’m still going through with this.” The bad feelings will lose their power over you if you acknowledge how you’re feeling, and the negative feelings won’t sneak up on you and sabotage your efforts because you’re acknowledging them first. Putting it out there keeps you honest with yourself, while you also give yourself a pep talk. Stay the course, realize that you’re capable of what you have to do (because you made it to this room, didn’t you?), and eventually you’ll feel it was worth it.
There’s something about building community with your fellow students that completes the enjoyment. The process of getting the Diploma can be more gratifying if you’re not going it alone. Don’t just have your eye on the piece of paper at the end of your senior year. Know that there’s a wealth of value and learning in the process itself. There is much to look forward to right here, right now. Not just off in the future. It’s hard to believe, but this is going to pass quickly. So build friendships, help each other, support each other, be good to yourself, ask for help when you need it.
Things that feel impossible will become possible if you get support along the way. Some of you will struggle more than others. Some of you will sink into despair, some will be dismayed, and your stamina will be tested many times. But remind yourself that you’re not in this alone, and others are feeling like you are.
The teachers in the Program, also want to help you accomplish your goals in getting the Diploma. And although the value of the assignments and projects may be hard to understand at times, trust them to know this is the best way to get you there. You may not understand it now, but it will make more sense in the end. And everyone will take care of you if you trust, and if you ask for help along the way. So if your “boat” is taking on water and you’re sinking, please seek help, support. Many of you said that you had someone in the building that you could talk to. For the rest of you, I hope you’ll consider ME to be that someone.
And after you get to the other side, and you’re in college, you’ll look back and actually thank the program for what it taught you. Just like your life up to this point… There have been ups and downs all along, and they all led you to where you ended up, here, to a coveted place.
So, take small steps forward, keep your eye on the finish line, and let us help you on this journey. Today is not the day to quit. Maybe you will wonder about that again tomorrow, or at some other point down the line. Try to take it one day at a time, and every day you stay in the program, you’re one day closer to the finish line.
And remember. You are here. Right now. And what you’re going to think about and do once you leave this room is the rest of your high school experience. Get excited about that! You don’t need the Diploma to have a good rest of your life. But I do think that most of you would regret it if you didn’t at least go for it, and give it your best shot.