This week I listened to a podcast that got me thinking. The speaker's argument was that when we choose the hard way directly, life is easier in the long run.
What do you think?
We do so much to try to smooth the way for our kids. As a teacher, my aim was to provide what I called a "+1" assignment. By that I meant that I wanted to take the student one level above where she currently was but not two levels, because I didn't want her to be unduly frustrated or discouraged.
But the speaker in this podcast was arguing that when we reach far beyond where we are now, even to that truly discouraged point--and still move forward--that that not only gives us incredible personal satisfaction but it also smooths the way for something to be easier down the road.
I began to think of examples where that has felt true in my life:
By taking AP courses in high school that sometimes felt like they were going to do me in, nothing at college felt as hard: I had learned the skills to cope and move forward despite it being stressful and hard.
The first two months I spent during my Junior Year Abroad were the loneliest I have ever felt. Yes, there were other Americans there in the program, but we were spread out all over the city (and I was the only one from my college). We arrived in summer long before the regular term started and so the dorms were basically empty. I was coming to Europe directly from 8 weeks as a counselor at a summer camp where I had not only been surrounded by people 24/7 but I wasneeded. I was important. Now it was scarcely noticed if I showed up to my intensive language class. By the time I finally spoke to my parents on the phone (no cell phones in those days!), I sobbed to my parents how hard it was. What did my father say? "Good! It builds character!" To that I wailed that I thought I had enough character.
Father Knows Best
But it turns out (as it so often did!) that Dad was right. Getting up each day and putting one foot in front of the next those first few months did give way to eventually feeling more comfortable and making some friends. More importantly, it became my litmus test for future situations: Are you as miserable now as you were then? Even going through my divorce did not seem as bad: Yes, I was devastated, but I kept reminding myself, "This is not as bad as JYA; I am not alone. I've got friends and family near by."
Being a step mother certainly brought many days when I asked, is this worth it? And only trusting the satisfaction of the long-term outcome kept me going. Likewise with leaving teaching and becoming a solo entrepreneur.
Enjoy the Journey
Somewhere along the road, however, there was a shift. A place where despite the discomfort, I learned to enjoy the journey. Where I paused to think with pride about what I was creating, to realize I wouldn't change where I was for anything. And that, I believe, is where the magic comes in: It is when you realize that even though the challenge seems nearly insurmountable, you wouldn't have it any other way.
So, how do we provide that for our kids?
I read a blog today in which a mom told how her son did not earn his yellow belt in karate when every other kid in the class did. Mom acknowledged his disappointment but when he complained it wasn't fair, she corrected him that it was fair because the other students had put in the work that enabled them to progress and that he had chosen not to. She then went on to express her confidence that if he choose to work hard and do some extra practice, she was sure he could come up to their level. Seeing that he worked hard for multiple weeks, Mom did support her son by asking if it were possible to take the test again without waiting until the end of the term. He did and he passed. Once he moved up to the new class, he did not become complacent but continued to work to make up the new skills his classmates had been mastering.
What a great outcome. Initially, the boy chose the easy path of not putting in the effort and then faced the disappointment of failing to move up with his peers. Then he chose the hard path of extra time and practice. That got him into a place of flow, of confidence and of success.
I imagine that the day will come again when he reaches a plateau and finds that his current routine is not enough to get him that next belt (for students at school I find this is often the transition from elementary to middle school). At the same time, my guess is that having once experienced that continuing to work diligently even when it feels really hard, this boy will find his way again.