Nelson Mandela had it. Sir Edmund Hillary had it.  Shane Gould, Leonie Kramer and Anne Summers had it.  So what is “it” and how can we pass “it” onto our teens and preteens in the counseling and/or teaching context?

“It” is the X-factor that helps our athletes, artists and scientists to achieve the extraordinary. “It” is what we need to teach our teens and preteens. Personified as an individual with a sheer passion for what they do, a strength acquired through adversity, a talent, personality or force of circumstances, “it” makes individuals more able to endure personal defeat or hardship than most.  “It”, the X-factor, the elusive resilient quality fascinates those who want to teach our next generation how to lead flourishing lives.

As a positive psychology and positive futures advocate, I know we can teach resilience-enhancing skills to our help create positive future ‘champions’. So how do we do it?  Consider the stories of resilience, individuals who are champions in their chosen field, who have overcome significant adversity.  Sigmund Freud, a pioneer in psychological science, aptly described himself “not as a man of science, not an observer, not an experimenter and not a thinker…nothing but an adventurer…a conquistador with the boldness and tenacity of that type of being” (Snyder, 2014:  xvii).  The intrinsic quality of ‘bloody-mindedness’ or as Professor Snyder calls it, ‘a champion-mindset’.  A single-mindedness of purpose, their belief in themselves or their cause is so strong that it overshadows their present set of circumstances.  Their skills are transferable and their stories are inspirational.

Consider Churchill’s bouts of depression, Roosevelt’s crippling polio, Darwin’s daily vomiting attacks, Lincoln’s election losses – history is full of stories of individuals who have risen to great heights through overcoming adversity.  Tell these stories to your teens and preteens.  Make the stories as vivid and detailed as possible – help them to imagine the person and their lifestory.  Show them the picture of the individual and while looking at the image, ask the young person what they think it is about these individuals that kept them going, when everyone and everything around them said they couldn’t.  Use real-life case examples of people the young person may be familiar with, or are somehow relevant, in their world.  For example:

Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC, started his dream at 65, driving around the country knocking on doors, sleeping in his car, and wearing his white suit.  People said no 1009 times before he got a yes.

Walt Disney: the man who gave us Disney World and Mickey Mouse, whose first animation company went bankrupt and was fired by a news editor because he lacked imagination. He was turned down 302 times before he got financing to create Disney World.

Albert Eistein: didn’t speak until he was four and read until he was seven. His parents and teachers thought he had low intellect but he eventually won a Nobel prize and is now considered the founder of modern physics.

Steven Spielberg: applied twice to the prestigious University of Southern California film school and was rejected.  He went on to direct some of the biggest movie blockbusters in history including: 

Jaws (1975)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

The Color Purple (1985)

Empire of the Sun (1987)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Hook (1991)

Jurassic Park (1993)

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

War of the Worlds (2005)

The Adventures of Tintin (2011)


Now he’s worth $2.7 billion and in 1994 received an honorary degree from the film school that rejected him.

Stephenie Meyer: wrote the Twilight series, inspired from a dream. She finished it in three months but never intended to publish it until a friend suggested she should.  She wrote 15 letters to literary agencies: five didn’t reply, nine rejected it and one gave her a chance.  In 2010, Forbes reported she earned $40 million.

Michael Jordan: was cut from his high school basketball team.  He turned out to be the greatest basketball player and is quoted as saying…

“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed”  (

Discuss the stories, the quotes, the champion mindset applied in everyday circumstances. These are the stories of resilience.  These are the stories of champions. 


Snyder, A. What Makes a Champion!:  Over Fifty Extraordinary Individuals Share Their Insights.  1st Edition.  World Scientific:  London.