Building A Better Student: Sherpa

top of mountain with snow and trees

Over the past few years the pop culture industry – and believe me, it’s a massive industry – has breathlessly reported the various stumbles from the celebrity world. Recently a young starlet found herself in an endless loop of bad behavior, and – following the playbook to a T – scheduled an interview with Oprah Winfrey to tell all. (You’d think we’ve heard it all by now, but apparently there’s more that we MUST know.)

Oprah made a point of saying that she wasn’t a mentor to the troubled girl. On our radio show I suggested that perhaps the television host was, in effect, a Moral Sherpa.

Sherpas are an ethnic group of people from Nepal. They’re most famous for their remarkable skills in mountaineering; in fact, we usually equate them with successful attempts at scaling Mount Everest or K2, high in the Himalayas. Sure, they often carry much of the gear, but their primary role is that of guide.

They’re hailed for their mental and physical toughness, as well as their expertise. Some have suggested that a Sherpa’s ability to safely guide others in such grueling, harrowing conditions might be genetically-related, a physical adaptation that allows them to bear nature’s punishing fury.

Now put Oprah and her celebrity friends aside for the moment, and consider your own involvement with a student, either through parenting or teaching (or both). If you distill it down to its basic layer, your role in that young person’s world is essentially that of a Sherpa. It’s not just because of your basic responsibilities, but because of your experience.

There are moments in every child’s life where more is required than simply saying “do that” and “don’t do that.” We’ve climbed the mountain before; we’ve suffered through hellish conditions and back-breaking moments that nearly crushed us, and we – somehow – came out on the other side. Maybe we didn’t reach the summit, but we at least saw it. Just as important, we learned what it takes to successfully finish the climb, in order to either try again later or to guide someone else.

We grow and adapt as we age; we have no choice.

Much is made of the countless tools that kids today have at their disposal, a mind-numbing array of gadgets and apps that are supposed to make everything faster and easier. Because of that, we mistakenly omit the most important tool of all: Us!

There are no apps for experience, no matter how good virtual technology becomes. Guiding a young person through their most difficult years – middle school, especially – requires you to become a Sherpa, putting your child’s doubts and fears on your back and leading them through the storm.

Technology has fooled us; it’s made us think that kids have changed, when they haven’t. They still need a guide, perhaps – ironically – more than ever. They’ve been fed a world that is version 3.0 while their internal software is still running 1.0. Rather than leaving them alone with their digital nannies, it’s crucial to rope yourself to them during the tough stretches and to show them what works and what doesn’t, particularly when it comes to interpersonal relationships and peer pressure.

You’re a Sherpa. In a way, you’re genetically-altered, too: it’s called Been There, Done That. Fortunately for all of us, with age comes wisdom.

Don’t waste it.

Dom Testa is an author, speaker, morning radio show host, and has kept a ficus tree alive for twenty two years. He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit foundation that helps young people embrace the idea that Smart Is Cool. More info at www.DomTesta.com.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who are guiding children.

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