As a very young toddler, my son frequently grew frustrated when attempting tasks. He often gave up easily when something proved too hard, asking for me to finish it. As a parent who prizes independence, this lack of effort was alarming, even in a child so young.
I wanted him to persist in challenging tasks, not give up at the first struggle. If at first he didn’t succeed, I wanted him to try again. Most importantly, I believed that what I taught him at two years old would shape the way he approached life in the future, and I wanted to give him tools to be self-reliant.
My Japanese-language teacher told me about a Japanese proverb that perfectly encapsulated what I wanted to teach: Nana korobi ya oki — “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” What I really wanted was for my son to learn resilience like the proverb. I didn’t want him to work only toward "success," but to keep trying, to keep pushing himself no matter the obstacles life throws in his way.
Ganbatte Vs. Good Luck
As I was thinking of ways to teach resilience to my son, a friend happened to say "Good luck!" before I climbed Mt Fuji. It struck me then that a vast difference between an American mindset and a Japanese one is in how we approach these big challenges in life. An American would say "Good luck!" before a big exam or presentation. In Japan, you’d say Ganbatte! – which translates roughly to "do your best!"
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