Doing the Hard Thing

I often find writing  blog posts to be  a challenging exercise.  It is not challenging because I have no interests, because I have many (sometimes too many), nor is it challenging because I have no areas of passion, because again, this just isn’t the case as I have several passions.  The challenge is always to narrow things down and to try to decide what others might find both interesting and perhaps useful or timely.  My focus this time is on remembering that we can and do, do hard things.

About 13 days ago, while walking to the bus to take to work, early in the morning a very close friend of mine was the recipient of a random act of violence.  He was injured.  Yes, things could have been worse, and likely would have, had it not been for a good Samaritan who stopped to help him disengage from those individuals who harmed him (no, robbery was not the motive, but that is a topic for a different day).    Thankfully that good Samaritan did not stop to consider that these individuals already had one adult bleeding profusely from the face; he stopped to help anyway.  He did not seemingly weigh out the fact that the assailants were still armed with their rock (and perhaps more unseen weapons), he did the hard thing and stopped to help.  Doing this undoubtedly made him late for work as it takes time to call the emergency responders, wait with my bleeding friend on the sidewalk for the ambulance to come and then give statements to the police.  He did the hard thing.  I have no doubt that it was scary as he approached the unknown situation; blood, noise and activity at a time of day when there should be peace and tranquility as one heads off to work and yet, he helped.

Today my friend had to make the trek to the bus stop again to go to work.  He had to walk by the spot where he first saw the people who attacked him, by the spot where they grabbed their rocks, by the spot where they hit him, by the spot where he was picking himself up bloodied with his broken nose and finally where the good Samaritan waited with him for the ambulance.  Doing that walk today was a hard thing.  Going back to where he was attacked was a hard thing.  He could have opted to take a different route to the bus, to forever more avoid that street, but he didn’t.  He put on his coat and walked that hard road to the bus.  He did the hard thing.    

Where do we first learn about doing the hard things?  Maybe our path to doing those hard things begins in childhood, when our parents’ guide us through making apologies at times when we said and did things we ought not have, when we hurt our friends’ and family’ members’ feelings, when we fought with our siblings and when had to learn to own and fix our mistakes.  Or, maybe the path to hard things begins even earlier than that, when we are deciding that we want to use our own mobility to get someplace, and then when we move from the crawling to the walking and then the running stages    As a parent, I can recall telling my girls “you can do it” when they were sizing up the distance between the couch arm they were clutching onto and the coffee table where there was something interesting awaiting their curious inspection.

Although I am really not sure where the path to doing hard things truly starts, I do know that as parents, trusted adults, teachers, mentors and loved ones, we play a very important role in how the internal dialogue that let’s children grow up to do hard things, plays out.  It’s a fine line to walk between keeping children safe, reminding them that they do need to be careful and that they are truly not ready to take on lions with their bare hands so to speak and reminding them that they “have it”, they can manage, they can try new things, even when those new things are taxing, daunting, new and scary.  I know that as a parent it was tempting to focus with my girls on all the reasons why something is hard, but the conversation should not stop at the identification of what makes things challenging.  The next step, a very important step after identifying those challenges, is to help develop a plan for managing those identified stressors and obstacles to success.  In order to help our children grow up to be those people who can and do, take on the hard things, we have to help them learn how to manage the anxiousness by being confident that they can make a plan to deal with obstacles.  

As a parent, it was tempting to just fix the problems, kiss the owies and tell the girls that I know that things are hard; to lament with them about the injustices and challenges and to stop there, to not push through that next step of problem solving.  Lamenting and validating the difficulties is definitely important, but so too is expressing our confidence that plans can be made and followed so that change and growth can occur.  We as parents can do the hard thing and let our children learn strategies to self- regulate and problem solve so that they can eventually do these without us—that is the goal right?  I know that I want my girls to be able to do those hard things in life as they pop up.   Of course they will feel anxiousness at times, they are supposed to, anxiousness has a purpose, but I also want them to be able to do the hard things, to face their own fears and to be the ones who help others in times of crisis.  How we teach others to manage their anxiousness and the stressors they face is important because being able to do the hard things in life is important.

Blog Post by Registered Psychologist, Tara Garratt

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