From an early age we repeatedly tell children and adolescents that we are preparing them for “independence” and that their future success depends on this independence. This constant focus on independence is well-intentioned and encourages some valuable growth and development – but it also runs the risk of taking our eyes off of the real prize: health interdependence.
Far too often we see emerging young adults entering college with the erroneous belief that their success will be dependent on their “ability to do it on their own.” They take their work seriously, they buckle down, they grit their teeth, and they soldier on – and too often they are heading in the wrong direction. They erroneously believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness or inadequacy, and so they suffer silently in ever-tightening spirals of overwhelm or failure. Without feedback or outside perspective they do not know what they do not know – and they are unable to see the fallacy in their thinking until it is too late.
The fallacy of independence is that any of us are independent – or even that the goal is independence. It is time to help our young people know that the goal of college and “growing up” is not independence at all, but rather a healthy dose of interdependence.
None of us are an island, and none of us can “do it all on our own.” We may have varied skills and abilities, but we are not our own electricians, accountants, IT execs, farmers, logisticians, airline pilots, or surgeons. We may be able to do some of these things for ourselves, but we cannot do it all, and that should never be the goal. Titans of industry are held up as individually successful, but they are not isolated icons, they are leaders – which means they have teams, and teams upon teams, which do the doing. Sports heroes find success with their teams – and even athletes in individualized sports have coaches, managers, and others with whom their success is not just interrelated, but often dependent. The goal is not independence – which far too many college students with learning differences or learning disabilities mistake for autonomy and/or isolationism – but rather it is healthy interdependence.
Healthy interdependence means that students are active members of a community. This community can involve friends, family, peers, acquaintances, professors, coaches, or other specialized support systems. Knowing when and how to activate, and engage with, this complex interdependence is the actual goal of being an adult. This means that students need the ability to ask for, receive, and provide support. They need to be comfortable with asking for feedback, admitting when they are overwhelmed, and, when possible, providing the same for others. These are the foundations of a healthy community which is built on interdependence – and interdependence is how our students succeed in both college, and on their journey to being a young adult.