On the Complexity of Describing Youth Thriving

Hello Friday!

My apologies for being a day late on my regular blog post. But, I have a great excuse! I was out and about the country this week talking about the 4-H Thriving Model, trying to raise support for the development of a training curriculum on the model for 4-H staff. I am hopeful my travels will bear fruit – but we will have to stay tuned for more.

As always, however, my thinking about the 4-H Thriving Model was front and center as I traveled, especially as my plane pulled in early to Salt Lake City late on Tuesday night (yay!) to no available gates (what?) As we sat on the tarmac for close to 45 minutes waiting for a gate, I felt the palpable rise of anxiety from my fellow travelers about missing connections. And the longer we sat the more I began to worry that my once comfortable hour connection was not going to be enough. The pilot was sympathetic and eager to keep everyone informed about the situation We were stuck on the jet ramp because of a variety of problems: no ramp crews, then a ramp crew arrived, but the plane at the gate was dead and needed a tow, which required a special crew, who were initially tied up, and then when they were free couldn’t locate the special tug they needed to move the dead plan, then a jet bridge driver got called away… well you get the picture.

As I sat there watching the plane next to us board, having determined from my phone that the plane was the very one I should be boarding myself, I began to think about the complexity of managing an airport arrival. I doubt any of us think about this very often as we jet here and there on our business.

This thinking about complexity echoed my mulling of late about the thriving indicators from the 4-H Thriving Model, because they are complex, and I still have not landed on the best way to describe them. Like an airport, they all work together to articulate the processes that help youth thrive. The names of the indicators are just that: names. Each of the thriving indicators could be called something else, these are just the names found in the youth development literature that help us define and understand the constructs of thriving..

As you know, the past few posts we have been looking at the thriving indicator of hopeful purpose. So building on that, I wanted to introduce Dr. Angela Duckworth’s book entitled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, which I am currently (finally!) reading. We’ll talk more about grit in coming posts, but for today I want to point out that the idea of grit is most closely aligned in the 4-H Thriving Model with Intentional Self-Regulation and Growth Mindset. But boom! Right in the middle of all this, Dr. Duckworth explores the role of grit in the development of a young person’s sense of purpose! Oh, Lordy, I thought, how am I going to help others work all this out?

And then it hit me! While we portray the thriving indicators in the 4-H Thriving Model as separate ideas, it is critically important that we understand them more as a complex interweaving of constructs that work together as a system to help youth develop to their full potential.

Just like the airport – where the successful arrival of a plane is dependent on separate, sometimes overlapping, things all working seamlessly together to produce a positive outcome. We all know that outcome: the timely arrival of plane at the gate, but rarely do we think about all that goes into that outcome and all the interconnected processes it involves. A breakdown in one can put the whole outcome in jeopardy.

So, rest easy in the complexity, and let’s look forward to exploring more about Grit in the weeks to come.

Thriving on,

Mary Arnold

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