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Why I push my daughter to do hard things

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I’m not a sky diver but I’ve jumped out of a plane. I’m not a runner but I’ve run every single mile of a half marathon. Every once in a while I set a crazy goal and push myself out of my comfort zone. It wakes me up and reminds me of what I am capable of doing.

The world has a way of making you doubt what you know about yourself. For my daughter who is a teenager it’s practically a way of life. I want to show her how she can not only survive her doubts but learn to silence them. So every now and then, I push her out of her comfort zone too.

These self-imposed mile markers, if you will, can have the same impact as those we have no control over like turning 50 or losing a job. How we respond to the hard stuff teaches us something.

Take the time we went hiking with my sister and her kids in the North Carolina mountains. In a moment of what must only be described as over confidence or blind enthusiasm, we opted for the extreme trail. I mean, it was only 5 miles. How extreme could that really be? We were about to find out.

  • One mile into the hike, the amount of whining from the kids was staggering. It hit me, there is a slight chance this was not my best decision.
  • A mile later the whining turned into snarled faces, but it was too late to turn back. My sister and I exchanged glances. “We’re almost halfway there,” I offered optimistically.
  • Mile three was marked mostly with huffing and puffing, by all of us, as each person had to focus on their next step. When it got really hard, we rested.

As we reached the summit. We took in the view. 

It was amazing. The surface looked like the moon with craters big enough for the kids to lay in.

They would have stayed up there all day exploring if we let them.

It appeared the hard part was over. It was all downhill from here. Easy, right?At least, that’s how it went in my head.

In reality the descent proved equally perilous. Between signs warning hikers that falls could be fatal were steep stairs that didn’t match any of our strides. At points we had to hold hands to help each other along. We warned each other to step carefully over the gnarled roots that had grown into the path.

In one section, a thin cable was the only thing stopping our children from sliding to a gruesome death.

When we reached the bottom we still had over a mile to go. We stopped at a bench with an astounding view of the summit we had minutes earlier been standing on.

It’s good to look back on how far you’ve come.

The bench got quiet. The kids just stared. I’m not sure if they were simply happy to be alive, completely exhausted or soaking in their achievement.

I decide to seize the moment.

“When school is hard,” I said breaking the silence, “I want you guys to remember right now. It can’t be harder than what you just did. When a mean girl makes you sad, or a boy breaks your heart or a friend hurts your feelings, I want you to remember right now.” Pointing at the mountain I said, “Not everyone can do what you just did. You didn’t think you could get through it, but you did.”

There are people who go their whole lives choosing the easy route. They step around confrontation, avoid hard conversations, and ignore signs of trouble, all because it’s hard. But the hard path pushes us to be better. It reminds us that we need other people. It forces us to rest. You learn time spent complaining is wasted energy because it changes nothing. The hard path also has breathtaking views of the summit and at the end is an appreciation of the victory you can only experience by knowing struggle.

By the time we hit the waterfall at the end of the hike, we felt stronger. Tired, yes. But strong!

Years later, my daughter and I were recalling that camping trip. She asked me if I remembered the hike. “Of course,” I told her. “And do you remember what I said to you guys?” I’m pretty sure there was a drumroll but I might have been the only one to hear it.
“Yes!” she said.
My satisfaction didn’t even last long enough to pat me on the back as she continued. “You said sometimes life sucks but you can get through the hard times.” I was simultaneously confused and amused. Uh, actually, I didn’t say it like that.
Her 9 year old self obviously doesn’t remember my poetic life lesson the way I do but she got the gist.  And that’s what matters.