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Opinion / Staff Leadership and Management / Storytellers

Persistence: Why It’s Hard Before It’s Easy

Persistence: Why It’s Hard Before It’s Easy

I’ve written about this very thing before, but I’m struck once again at how HARD things are before they become EASY.

My son and daughter took a few rounds of swimming lessons this summer. For my son, who only recently turned three, this was his first experience with swimming lessons, and they came at a time when he was only just beginning to enjoy just simply playing in the water.

Here’s how the first round went for him: During his first lesson, he cried hysterically from the first moment to the last, without a break. During the second lesson, he cried hysterically from the first moment to the last, with one or two pauses.

During the third lesson, he cried intermittently, with large breaks in between. During the fourth lesson, he whimpered from time to time but didn’t cry at all. By the last lesson he happily reached for his instructor, did everything she asked without so much as a whine, and when all was said and done, came running over to me beaming from ear to ear.

Everything, oh everything, is hard before it is easy. And what’s MOST hard is remembering that.

After the first lesson I was ready to call it in, declare him too young for swimming lessons, and rescue him from his sorrow. But the thing is, even though he cried the whole time, he still did everything his instructor asked of him. He cried while making rocket ship arms; he cried while kicking his legs; he cried while floating on his back. He cried, but he did it all anyway. Maybe on some instinctual level he knew better than most of us: that if he just hung in there it would get better eventually. Or maybe he didn’t realize he had the option to just NOT do it.

Either way, he inspired me with his dogged stick-with-it-ness.

His process through these swimming lessons reminded me that when I start something new it’s probably going to stink lousy rotten eggs. But just because it stinks lousy rotten eggs when I start doesn’t mean I should give up on it. It doesn’t mean I was wrong to think it was a good idea. Just because I’m terrible at something or I hate something or I’m scared about something when I start, doesn’t mean that’s the way it’s always going to be. In fact, all it means is I am beginning something new. All it actually means is that an opportunity for a new adventure is upon me. I’d actually be crazy to stop. (Unless it was as horrible the tenth time as it was the first time with no signs of improvement or joy. In that case I might want to re-evaluate the whole thing as to avoid becoming the definition of insanity.)

So if you’re about to start something and you’re worried you’re going to be bad at it or it’s going to make you feel uncomfortable or look awkward, or you’re afraid it’s going to be confusing… well, you’re probably right. Grit your teeth and get through day one. Show up for day two. Show up for day three. Chances are you will notice a difference in yourself, probably barely perceptible at first. Chances are, by the “end,” whatever that means for you, you’ll be beaming ear to ear.

And, more importantly: do that in front of your students, in front of your own children.

Show them, by modeling it, that hard things don’t often stay hard forever. Demonstrate that persistence really does make a difference, more often than it doesn’t. Share your feelings of frustration, your feelings of wanting to quit, your feelings of stubborn stick-with-it-ness, your feelings of pride, your feelings of joy. When you do all those things for the young people in your life, you’re providing them an invaluable map—you’re lighting the way for them to get through their own hard thing, and to know what to expect along the way. And that is an amazing gift.

How can you remember that everything is hard before it’s easy today?

For breakfast I had half a boiled egg, a handful of blueberries, and lots of coffee.

Author: @erikap

This post originally appeared on the Breakfast Club Blog on August 15, 2014.

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