Monday, August 07, 2006

Keep Trying

We have a pool where I live. A fairly decent pool, as well. Thing is, we rarely use it, despite all the times my sons say, "Can we go swimming?"

My response is usually, "Maybe." And, of course, we never do. Trouble is, neither of my boys know how to swim, and the pool is four feet deep at the shallowest point. So, until they learn how to swim, I don't see a lot of point.

Ah, yes. I know. They'll never learn to swim if I don't take them down to the pool, so stop getting technical with me! If I told you that I took them swimming yesterday, will you leave me alone?

Good, becaue I took them swimming yesterday. My oldest claimed he had learned to swim in the three foot pool that some friends of ours own. Turns out, that was only half true. He knows how to swim underwater. But when it comes to staying above water, he floundered. So, we spent 45 minutes holding onto the edge of the pool practicing kicking techniques and eventually how to do the doggie paddle. By the time we left, he was doing pretty good, able to swim unaided across the short length of the pool.

But it is my second son that is truly fascinating. Or frustrating. Or maybe infuriating. My second son is the emotional one in the family. He wants to do everything as well or better than his brother, despite being more than a year younger, and he beats himself up if he can't.

So, after nearly drowning three times in a desperate attempt to swim by himself, he finally decided to listen to me and hang onto the edge. Then, for the next 40 minutes he spent the entire time crying... or on the verge of crying. I'd ask him why, and he'd say he wanted to learn to swim. I tried to tell him that he shouldn't expect to learn to swim in one day, it wasn't like riding a bike. (And yes, he actually learned to ride a bike without training wheels in a day. In under an hour, actually, from start to finish.)

But that wasn't good enough. He kept getting frustrated that he could kick his legs and paddle with his arms at the same time, or that he couldn't tread water, or that when I held him on his back to try to float, he couldn't let go of my neck so that I could actually breathe. Of course, by the time we left, he had learned to kick pretty good, but it didn't matter. He couldn't swim, so he was a failure. At least in his own eyes.

Failure, however, is not trying but failing to achieve some preconceived expectation or level of proficiency. Failure is trying and giving up.

My oldest son does the same in other areas. He is used to things being easy for him, especially academically. So if something is hard. If something takes work, such as learning a particularly difficult passage in a piano piece he is working on, he wants to give up after just a few tries.

I think everyone has some area of their life they do this. But think how much more successful we could be, how much more self-esteem we would have, if we recognized the attempt as a step forward. If we could look at our "failures" and say, "Hey, perhaps it isn't good enough yet, but I'm learning, and I'm better today than I was yesterday." I think any highly successful person will tell you that they didn't get there because everything was easy for them. They got there because they worked hard at it.

Sure, for some, certain things are easier than for others. God gave each of us unique strengths and weaknesses. It isn't necessarily because we are to only work with our strengths and avoid our weaknesses, but because it is through overcoming those weaknesses that we are tested and refined.

So go on. Try something difficult. Try something you have to work at. And when you fail, look at what you learned...then keep trying!

By the way, don't forget to stop by E. J. Knapp's page and buy a story or two to help him get back on his feet. (See my previous blog entry on "Down, But Not Out" for details.)

1 comment:

Kelsey said...

So true Ryan.

I've always been a good student. I think my GPA throughout high school and college was 3.7. When I started graduate school (in history which wasn't my undergrad discipline) I freaked. All of a sudden, I actually had to work for success. It wasn't coming as easily... hmmm.

I realized that throughout my academic career, I'd always tried just hard enough to get a good grade, but not as hard as I could. The thought of putting my all into something was scary, because what if my all wasn't that great?! (I think I convinced myself that "if I tried harder I'd get an A+") What if I didn't? What if I couldn't?

Grad school has required 100% of my effort. It's been such a learning process to really have to TRY and be content with the results.

Great post, thanks for reminding me that trying is all that matters (especially critical now as I begin my thesis!)