A breakdown leading to breakthrough

“This is so hard.” His shoulders slumped, feeling the weight. He stopped building, scooted over and began playing with the tiles instead. He looked up with tears in his eyes and emotion in his throat. “We’re never going to win the challenge,” he said with genuine vulnerability.

Most days, this hero is upbeat and positive. He is a kind friend, optimistic; always ready to forgive. In the midst of our third round of bridge-building challenges this week, as each one increased in difficulty, he felt overwhelmed. His team had scattered, and he didn’t know what to do.

“Do you feel like you are in your comfort zone, challenge zone or panic zone?” I asked. I had an idea of what he might say.

“Panic zone!” he said, emotion coming up and out of his throat.

“What could we do to help it be less in your panic zone?” I asked. “Sometimes when I’m in my panic zone, what helps me is to just take one step at a time. What’s one thing you could do?”

Looking around the room, it was clear that our game was breaking down. Heroes felt overwhelmed. And yet, as a guide and gamemaker, I knew this was a necessary place for them to be. Over the past few bridge challenges, they had been able to use the same, comfortable model over and over again, since the challenge was small. They needed an opportunity to stretch and discover a new model. The best way? Give them a challenge SO BIG that their current model wouldn’t work anymore – which is exactly what had happened. (Business owners, can you relate?) I knew I needed to raise the energy in the room again, to help them sense some momentum to keep going.

I immediately reached in my pocket, took out my phone, and pretended to make a phone call. It was to ‘Bud the Bear’. This bridge building challenge was unique – it was issued as our friend – Bud the Bear – had reached out to our studio for help. He had been traveling in Colorado and discovered the road in front of him had collapsed. He would be stuck until he knew how to build a bridge for himself. He knew our heroes could help by building models of a bridge and sharing ideas with him.

“What’s that you say, Bud?” I spoke into my phone.

“Really!” I exclaimed. “So you’re telling me that the opening isn’t quite as wide as you thought? As long as the bridge extends for 14 inches that will work?”

“Ok. I’ll tell them. We have some good ideas coming your way, I just know!”

“Thanks, Bud. Talk soon!” I hung up the phone.

Energy immediately picked up as the challenge went from “panic zone” back to “challenge zone”. As the heroes persevered through their feelings of panic and overwhelm, they felt empowered and excited – and even discovered a new model – like using magnet tiles to create a triangle base instead of a square base, which conserved their limited supply and gave them enough tiles to reach the required distance of 14 inches. At the end, we called Bud the Bear again to celebrate!

Breakdown, when approached with a growth mindset, creativity and perseverance – leads to breakthrough.

What a valuable lesson for our heroes – and such a powerful reminder for me!

What a game can teach us about leadership

“But it’s my game!” exclaimed one hero, a six-year-old whose turn it was to be in charge of creating and leading the game for our daily “Move-It” time. The other heroes squirmed with a pained look on their faces, hoping she would listen to their feedback and tweek the rules as they had suggested.

The stillness held the tension of differing opinions. How would we continue on without everyone being on the same page and excited for the game? If she stuck her ground, the game may fall apart as a result of disinterested heroes. If she gave in out of compulsion, she may harbor resentment.

I broke the tension with a question. “What does it mean to be a leader?” I asked. “Is it so you can have your way, or is it so you can think of a game that everyone will enjoy?”

So often leadership in our world is viewed as an opportunity to control; to get our way; to have power. And yet, as our heroes discovered, a leader without a community of people bought into the vision isn’t a leader at all. Leadership is influence. Leadership happens as other’s needs are considered and cared for with a heart of service.

A lightbulb went off in our young game leader’s awareness that day. She chose to listen to her peer’s feedback. She allowed her peers to help her co-create the game – and as a result, everyone LOVED it!

Such a beautiful lesson in real-world leadership!

Failure: A Sacred Superpower

As she wrapped her arms around herself in a tight, warm hug, the biggest smile spread across her face. “I feel SO good when others listen to me – it makes me feel like a princess!”

Then, looking around, she spotted the next hero with his hand raised who was excited to share his opinion, and gently passed the peace flower to him.

Such a special culture of respect is being built where each hero has a voice and is listened to.

Yet do you know what it took to get here?

A lot of interrupting. A lot of frustration. A lot of tears. Our heroes have learned through experience how awful it feels when others aren’t listening – and they were ready this week to adopt a few more structures to our circle times in order to make them a more peaceful and enjoyable experience.

“When you have something special to share and someone interrupts you, how does that make you feel?” Mr. Chris asked.

The circle was unified in vulnerability, much like tired siblings after a squabble – who are yearning for peace and joy. “Terrible,” one commented. “Yeah – like I’m not worth much,” another shared.

“And how did today’s circle feel to you?” Mr. Chris asked, reflecting on the new structures that had been adopted.

“It was peaceful,” one shared as he put down his hand and received the flower to speak. “We were listening to each other.”

When growth happens through failure, the learning sticks. Our studio is a sacred place set apart as a training ground – a “Hero Headquarters” – where heroes are equipped to discover their calling and to change the world. It’s a safe place for heroes to experiment, reflect and learn through doing – which must include failure.

Failure is sacred. Heart-wrenching and transformational all at the same time- if we can recognize its potential and beauty.

These beautiful heroes are transforming from the inside out.

The power of a little voice

“You’re not a great captain,” our youngest hero (4 years old) earnestly remarked to our oldest hero (8 years old) during our morning circle. I had just announced that for the first time, the heroes would get to vote later that day on who their studio maintenance captains would be for next week.

“Yes, I am!” he retorted.

“No, you’re not,” the youngest continued. “You always leave and aren’t helping,” he calmly said, motioning his hands outward to show his passion.

As we moved on to the next topic, I noticed something. The feedback given from the youngest affected the oldest. Like how you take notice when there is a little rock in your shoe. Like when you find a piece of lint that keeps sticking to you, no matter how hard you try to get it off.

A little voice, when clear and strong and filled with truth, sinks deep and causes us to pause.

Oh, the beauty of our forming community. Our heroes are beginning to find their voice and discover what they value in a leader.

Yet the beauty cannot exist without pain and struggle – as these are the best teachers. In fact, our heroes are learning through experience what good leadership looks like each day during our studio maintenance time. The captains lead their small groups and get to work on their assigned jobs. Sometimes the groups are organized, working hard, and beat the timer. Sometimes they aren’t. Yet each time we sit around the circle and reflect on their experience, the groups acknowledge the habits that will help them be successful – focus and hard work. They own their mistakes and apologize to their teammates. These experiences, through the joy and disappointment, are etching character inside.

Learning to learn, learning to do, learning to be.

What a transformational journey!

How inspiration happens

Our heroes inspire me each day. Their kind hearts to help each other. Their patience with each other to grow at their own pace on their own journey. Their courage to share their feelings with each other in moments of hurt or frustration. Their love to believe the best and choose forgiveness. These heroes are growing into a tight-knit community who are bringing the best out in each other. I stand back and smile.

One story from this week that inspired us all was Mia. As one of our oldest heroes who is really strong in reading, she began working with the Grammar Boxes a few months ago. Things were pretty easy until she reached the “Noun 5” Drawer. This drawer asked her to identify the names of the female, male and offspring for various animals. I looked at her and smiled, saying that we would be learning these names together, as there were many even I had never heard of! She nodded, smiling with confidence and we took the plunge.

Twelve times. It took her almost 3 weeks, working on it each day, before she could proudly say that she mastered it this week – without needing to look any words up.

And yet – joy characterized her. She had the space to master it in her own time, on her own accord – and this journey gifted her a deep feeling of satisfaction. She persevered and she overcame, one day at a time.

You know what this joy propelled in her? Increased energy and enthusiasm to continue to persevere and overcome! The very day that she mastered the Noun 5 Drawer, she went on and mastered the Noun 6, Noun 7, Noun 8, Noun 9, Noun 10 and Article 1 Drawers. She was on FIRE! The other heroes’ eyes widened as they learned just how many “works” Mia had completed in our work block that day – which lit a fire in them as well to see how focused they could be and what they could master.

Oh, the beauty and power of our tight-knit learner-driven community… our heroes inspire each other to learn and grow every day!

Ideas, Creativity and Trailblazers

Such bubbling excitement filled the room as the Heroes came back together after their experience at our Children’s Business Fair. As we sat down around our circle, they shared and celebrated what went well for them (“we made a lot of money!” 🙂 ) and what they plan to do differently for the next fair in the Spring. Some shared new ideas of products they hoped to make, while others shared how they wanted to keep having the courage to talk with people they didn’t know. In any case, they were already EXCITED to do this again!

This week, our Heroes continued to discover and practice sharing things they are grateful for, as we wrapped up this session’s focus on Gratitude and Optimism. As we heard the story of the first Thanksgiving and considered what it would be like to be without food or warm shelter in the first cold winter, or how it would feel to lose our family members to disease, they realized first hand how grateful the Pilgrims would feel for the Native Americans who chose love instead of fear or control. When asked what they wanted to do to celebrate Thanksgiving together, they immediately thought of their favorite foods to bring for our “feast” and couldn’t wait to get started on making their costumes!

This is one powerful way that children transform into trailblazers! As we take the time in the studio for the heroes to generate ideas, try them out, reflect, and make adjustments, they build their sense of identify and courage to live life as an active creator of their experiences – instead of being a passive observer or follower. Making costumes in an open, hero-led way is a beautiful example. One hero (as seen above) tried three different ideas before she landed on her final iteration! She felt so proud!

Another example of the heroes learning to create their experience is seen in our “Move-It!” time each day. Each Hero takes a turn choosing a game, and then decides and communicates the rules. The rest of the Heroes embrace the challenge of 1) following the rules – even if they don’t prefer them – and 2) participating with a good attitude – even if they don’t prefer the game. After a short group discussion where Heroes offer ideas to each other for rules, the lead Hero makes a decision and off we go to play the game! This rich experience allows children to learn to become “game makers” – trying out ideas and learning for themselves the balance between freedom and rules in creating a fun game, as well as building empathy, respect and kindness for those who have different ideas and preferences! Some of the Heroes’ favorites so far have been creating different varieties of soccer, “Sharks and Minnows”, and ball tag!

In a world where people can be tempted to silence internal thoughts and passions in the name of “falling in line” or “checking off the boxes” or just doing what “has to be done”, we are casting a different vision. Think big. Discover deep. Have the courage to acknowledge your passions and step out to use them to change the world. After all, what is the value of a community if each of us are not present and offering our gifts? Offering our genuine presence and journey of growth to each other produces a rich, inspiring community where we are known, loved and growing into our potential. This is the beauty of our tight-knit learner-driven community; our children are absorbing the mindset of their value, and how to offer their authentic selves and their gifts to one another in community. No longer will they grow up to be adults content to be a silent observer. We are nurturing active participants in life – creators, trailblazers – world changers. What powerful little seeds.

Paper airplanes + a powerful family journey

I admire it so much when a family chooses the Acton Journey. The courage, humbleness, long-term vision and openness to growth it takes. Parents who choose a road that is narrow and unpaved, yet leading to breathtaking views. Families who forsake the status quo friendships and achievement-based peer culture for their child and take the plunge for a brand new culture that cultivates empathy, a unique and authentic identity, a strong voice and leadership. Parents who recognize that small seeds in time grow strong, towering trees that offer us shade and protection.

I’m excited to share with you one small seed of a powerful story of one of these families.

During our second session, we focused on exploring entrepreneurship with our young band of heroes in the studio. Their challenge: to create a business of their own and sell their products to real, live customers at our fall Omaha Acton Children’s Business Fair, seeing how much profit they could make and how much they would learn.

The constraint: the parents must step back and allow the children to own and drive their experience. This means the parents assume the role of a guide or coach – and leave the decision-making and effort to the child. Even if the child makes a mistake. Even if the child has a very simple booth with a sign drawn by hand. Even if the parent doesn’t think they will win a trophy.

Parents, are your insides tightening together with anxiety, just thinking about this? Yes, releasing our children to go down their journey – allowing them to learn through their mistakes and failures first hand – is one of the most difficult parts, and yet one of the most powerful learning experiences for them.

Something magical happens when children are allowed to create and then experience their own journeys. Freedom to experiment without external, authoritarian pressure. Freedom to make imperfect progress. Freedom to discover their own level of passion for something, instead of hiding behind a parent’s desires, ideas and passions.

Over time, they come out in the open, confident about where they’ve come from and how they’ve arrived to their current place. Confident about an even clearer vision for their future. All of this takes time. A mindset that celebrates imperfect progress – and embraces their unique journey of growth.

Meet George. He is a bright-eyed boy, eternally optimistic and warm-hearted. He loves his parents and lives life with such excitement – ushering joy into our studio each day! He was getting excited about his business – about which he announced, “We are making birdhouses! My dad and I make them, and I help him. He can make so many things out of wood!”

As excited as he was to do this project with his dad, I had a sense that the birdhouses might require more help from his parents than the mission allows. As we reached out to his parents (as is customary for each participant in our fair), a beautiful conversation ensued.

“What does George love to do?” we asked, when his mom wasn’t sure what another business idea might be. Right away she knew.

“Paper airplanes! He comes home from Acton and LOVES building them!”

“That sounds like a great business idea! What if you let him do that,” we encouraged her. And you know what? They did.

George and his younger brother arrived to the Business Fair with with all of the supplies for their booth – a simple white tri-fold poster with “George and Thatcher’s Paper Airplane Surprises” printed out and pasted on in a randomized, creative way, along with their slogan “You’re going to love it”, the price, and many hand-drawn sketches to decorate. Gingerly they set out their basket full of hand-made paper airplanes, each labeled with a number, and set up a variety of chocolates and candies they had brought. With contagious excitement and big smiles they invited passers-by, “Do you want a paper airplane surprise?!” As the customers drew a paper airplane out of the basket, the number dictated whether they had just won a big candy or a small candy along with the airplane. What a creative idea!

Did George and Thatcher win a trophy? No. Did they make a lot of profit? Not by an adult’s perspective. George’s perspective? It was such a rich and fun experience. After paying back their parents for their supplies, George and Thatcher took home $10 each – to which George joyfully commented, “This is the most money I’ve ever made all by myself!”

This is what it’s all about. Not a perfect business completed mostly by parents. It’s about allowing each experience to be more about the child’s journey of growth than the momentary outcome or achievement. It’s about cultivating the passion that we see bubbling up – and encouraging the confidence that springs up as a small shoot at first. This journey requires vision and support from the whole family. It’s a family journey.

Below you’ll find more pictures from the Omaha Acton Children’s Business Fair! Be sure to sign up at www.childrensbusinessfair.org/omaha to be the first to know when the application process opens up for our Spring fair on March 29, 2019!

Here is a complete list of the winners!

Age 5-8 Most Original Business Idea: Phillips Tile & Crafts; Age 5-8 Highest Business Potential: Omaha Kids Company; Age 5-8 Best Presentation/Creativity: Color World; Age 9-11 Most Original Business Idea: Kawaii Designs; Age 9-11 Highest Business Potential: Awesome Acrylics; Age 9-11 Best Presentation/Creativity: Sew Cute; Age 12-16 Most Original Business Idea: Witch & Wizard Emporium; Age 12-16 Highest Business Potential: KM Relievers; Age 12-16 Best Presentation/Creativity: Unicorn Slimes By Bree.

Congratulations to all of our youth for embracing their journeys of growth at the fair!