As a mother, I find it so easy to dole out advice to my kids. A big piece of advice I seem to be doling out lately is don’t give up, i.e. stick with it or keep trying. Or, as the late Ed Amaral (my Trigonometry teacher of ‘84) used to repeat daily: You’ve gotta get up and swing the bat! You have to be a doer and when things don’t go perfectly, try it again. Keep at it.
My daughter, 17, is on the fence about trying out for the lacrosse team this spring, her senior year. Her thinking: She and a handful of other juniors were placed on the JV team this past spring, so her chance of making the varsity team as a senior, when so many talented underclassmen are trying out too, is slim. She will probably be cut, she reasons. “Don’t give up!” I keep telling her.
It sounds so easy. But it’s not. Because unless you were born with a photographic memory and you can ace verbal and written tests, you need to work hard to learn something new and to improve your skills in most areas. So why don’t people follow the Nike message and Just Do it? Why do I have to keep reminding my teenagers to keep trying and to not give up?
As far as I can tell, a person who moans and groans at the thought of working hard does so for one of three reasons:
- Reason #1: Fear of failure. This person gives up prematurely or procrastinates because he or she is paralyzed by the prospect of not succeeding. Instead of saying “I think I can, I think I can…” like the little toy engine did, this person says “I can’t, I can’t…..” yet deep down knows that doing well is within reach. This kind of person needs encouragement. My youngest child (12) is a good student but will whine about tackling a big school project until she knows she is running out of time to complete it. Then she works with tunnel vision, excited by how it is coming along each step of the way.
- Reason #2: Laziness. This person cannot bear to feel the pain of thinking, practicing, or preparing well. He or she will do just enough to say he tried, but no more. Most people who make New Year’s Resolutions to get in shape or lose weight start out with good intentions until they realize reaching that goal doesn’t happen overnight – it takes hard work. A student who takes a final exam without having studied (because he already learned the material all semester!) most likely won’t get a good grade.
- Reason #3: Reality. This person comes to the realization that he or she is just not skilled enough to perform the task – and he’s right! This would be me if I suddenly decided it would be cool to be an opera singer. (I can’t carry a tune to save my life nor do I like to be on stage, although I dream of having a beautiful singing voice). The non-reader who knows that taking AP English would be disastrous is making a smart decision by not enrolling in the class. (Note: Taking a difficult course to be challenged is good if extra hard work results in a attaining a C or better, in my opinion).
The point is, most teenagers (and many adults) are still learning that hard work is required of any worthwhile task and the sooner they learn this lesson, the sooner they will realize perseverance pays off. Does it mean they will always get the A, make the team, land the job or lose the weight? No. However, it will help establish a very positive mindset that they’ve given it their all and that’s a tremendous feeling.
I recently read a story in The Boston Globe about a local teen, Sammy Davis (Pembroke, MA), who was invited to try out for the U18 national hockey team in Lake Placid, NY. Although she ultimately got cut, she was thrilled to be one of only 30 girls nationwide to be selected to try out.
How did this remarkable feat happen? Sammy has been ice skating since she was five years old, playing on boys hockey teams through the Squirt (age 10) level. Then she played on girls teams, including her most recent Tabor Academy team and Bay State Breakers Green (U19) team. That’s a lot of hockey. In response to getting cut from the national team she said it only gives her fuel to come back stronger next time around.
So…. Back to my daughter and her upcoming lacrosse tryout. Is it totally unreasonable to think that she might make the varsity team? After all, she is a decent player and has played on a lacrosse team (albeit the JV team) all three years of high school.
I think she has a shot at it IF she adopts the attitude that she needs to train extra hard in the weeks or months leading up to the tryout. She will be tired because she will have to push herself to run faster and further. She will have to spend a significant amount of time practicing her cradling, passing and catching with a friend. She will have to head onto the tryout field with the attitude that they need her on that team and she deserves to be on it.
And, if she doesn’t make the team, she can feel good about herself for doing her best and for swinging that bat.
Now that’s a Wicked Good Teen!