Lessons in Perseverance

A little more than a week ago DS2 passed the green band swim test at our Y’s water park.  With the green band, he can go in any area of the pool — the 4 ft zone, the 9 ft, and (most importantly) the water slides. Even better — he can do it all without an adult tagging along.

The green band did not come easily.  Going into the summer, DS2 was not a strong swimmer.  He could swim for short distances, but couldn’t tread water, was afraid to jump into the deep end, and didn’t have the stamina necessary to swim the entire length of the pool.

As soon as school was over, we started hitting the pool at least two or three times a week.  At first, he was content to play with me in the four foot area and wasn’t too concerned about improving his swimming or taking the green band test.  But, every time his older brother swam off by himself into the deep end or climbed the stairs to the water slides, DS2 wished he could follow, and before long he REALLY wanted that green band.

He started actually practicing — swimming longer distances, treading water as best he could in the four foot area — then started taking the green band test every chance he could.  For almost a week straight, he took the test every day — sometimes twice a day.  Each time, he’d be SURE that this was the test he would pass … only to fall short.  He’d stop half-way for no particular reason … he’d freak out when asked to jump into the deep end and would walk away … he’d be THIS close to treading water for 60 seconds, and then grab the side.

After failing the test, he’d walk away from the pool, completely dejected, plop down on a deck chair, and cry a little bit.  Then, the very next day … at the very first opportunity … he’d go back to take the test again.

Finally, after taking the test seven times in three days, he passed, and there was much rejoicing!  I posted about it here, celebrated it on Facebook, and got the boys ice cream to celebrate what DS2 called, “My greatest triumph!”

That same day, DS2 got an email from his Godmother that read: “Your Mom told me that you passed your green swim test today!  I know you are SOOO excited about that.  Your Godfather and I are too.  But for us, it’s not the passing that is most important, it’s that you kept on trying and never gave up.  That’s more than I can say for most adults I know.  That attitude of dedication and drive to reach your goals, even when they are tough is what will get you whatever it is you decide you want in life!  Sooo proud of you!”

Leave it to DS2′s brilliant Godmother to point out the big lesson of the whole swim-band test experience — the lesson in perseverance –the lesson that some accomplishments DON’T come easily.  Some goals aren’t reached on the first try.  Sometimes it’s going to take a lot of effort, a lot of frustration, overcoming a lot of set backs, and a lot of dedication to achieve what you most desire.  The work that went into getting that green band showed DS2 this …. and showed him that HE can persevere.

Her email also got me wondering: Will this experience stick with DS2? Will he remember it? Will it become part of the story he tells himself about his life? As he gets older and comes up against other challenges and frustrations, will he remember to say to himself, “This is like the time I had trouble passing the green band test. I just have to stick with it — if I don’t give up and work hard, I’ll get there.”

And, what about the times when the work and effort DON’T pay off — sometimes, no matter how much we persevere, we DON’T reach our goal.  Sometimes hard work and dedication do not get you the results you wanted — this is only too clear to me this week, as we have been watching Olympics competition almost every moment of the day and have watched countless determined, hard-working, persevering athletes fall short of their goals.

When and how will DS2 learn about the darker side of perseverance? When will he fall short despite all his hard work? And how will he incorporate that experience into his story about himself?

By mkkendrick

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10 thoughts on “Lessons in Perseverance

  1. This was lovely…. I can feel your pride in him.. not achieving our goals is tough for anyone of any age no matter how hard we work… and it’s a lesson that never seems to get easier does it?

    • Thanks :-)

      … and, yep, I think not making the goals we work so hard for doesn’t get easier…I think it gets harder, in fact.

      As you get older, the goals get bigger — as adults we want things like a successful marriage, a successful career, etc. And, sometimes, no matter how hard we work, marriages don’t work out…we don’t get the promotion we wanted, etc. I think learning to make peace with those kinds of disappointments is a big part of what it means to be a grown up.

  2. It’s a tremendous story!

    Whether he remembers it or not, this success both reveals something about his personality and adds to his life experience.

    DH and I were talking yesterday about how our DD doesn’t show this characteristic the way we’d like. School came easily to her, she’s gotten jobs because of her skills and some connections, and she’s not shy about talking to people. But she’s never had to struggle……and I wonder if that will be a problem in the long run. How will she persevere when/if she faces something difficult.

    So, I was so impressed with your DS – at such a young age he has learned a valuable lesson! It’s the real takeaway from the olympics, too. Not “go for gold”, but “set a goal and work HARD toward it”

    • Well, from things you’ve shared about your DD, it sounds like she may not have had to persevere academically or in the work-world, but has had to persevere in more personal ways — personal relationships, her relationship to food and body image, etc. I think those lessons stick with a person, too.

      And, I like your point about the Olympics — that does come across as we watch — how hard all the athletes have had to work and how, even if they don’t get a medal, they are still enjoying their time and are proud of themselves.

    • This is very nice. I will say that I do not find that perseverence comes naturally to me, and I am lazy as all get out. I’m like Lyn’s son, if it doesn’t come easily I don’t want to do it for very long. I get discouraged and then wander off in another direction. I have managed to finish some important things (a PhD, tenure at my second job) but also have floundered on others (publishing enough for tenure at my first job, keeping at it when a paper that keeps getting rejected, a sustained exercise program). All this to say…I wish I were more apt to stick with hard things, but not being able to hasn’t ruined my life. Your DD will persevere when it is really important to her, and that is what counts.

  3. My younger son does not like to do anything that doesn’t come easily; if he thinks there is any chance of failure he prefers not to try at all. This summer there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth in our household because I force him to read every day. We still don’t have an explanation for why reading is so difficult – we have another appointment today – but practice is necessary no matter what the explanation, and with fourth grade looming learning to read is not optional. He does not have the determination, so I have had to substitute mine. It’s been a summer of war.

    There has been much howling about the unfairness of this because I don’t use such heavy handed pressure on his brother. Of course he recognizes that his brother is a voracious reader who resists being pried from a book, but it is still a great injustice. Among his many protests against the unfairness of the situation, my favorite was the time he wailed, “But he has DETERMINATION!!!!”

    I wish I could make him understand that he, too, has determination. Amazing powers of determination, though we usually call it by other names: stubbornness, strong will, obstreperousness, etc. The difference between him and his brother is that his brother uses his powers for good. If I could somehow teach him to harness this force and use it to his own benefit, he could accomplish great things.

    • For this kind of thing – reading, school work, household chores – I have to say it’s only in the last year or so that DS has moved beyond me needing to nag him. He hated the teachers’ requirement that he read every day. I said “I wish someone told ME that I have to read every day, for me it’s a “get to” not “have to”.” I would sit and read with him, just to keep him going. It’s just in late 5th, early 6th grade that he flipped and started doing reading and school work on his own. What he likes is that he understands if he does it, then he escapes the nagging. I’d say “if you want me to stop reminding you, then do it before I remind you”…..finally, he “got” that. Avoid nagging by just doing it, for goodness sake. YMMV, but maybe showing your DS how he can shift the power of control – the task (reading) is a non-starter, but he can take back control by deciding on his own where/when/how long.

    • oooh, I resemble this. My bugbear was math, not reading. I set up a fine, strong, two-brick-thick and rendered over stubborn wall when it came to doing math that had a really neat self-reinforcing dynamic. Because it didn’t come easy, I didn’t like math, and because I didn’t like math, I never did it and thus it never got easier. Honestly, wasn’t until 9th grade algebra that I started noticing that math could be interesting, and it really, truly wasn’t until grad school that I found myself enjoying using applied maths through economics to achieve analytical ends.

      I look back on it now and I’m really grateful that my parents refused to let me off the hook with math and did what you and what Sue did – make sure I did the work every day, no exceptions. No opting out. No giving up. Because I surely would have done the minimum and then gotten out, and that would have been a shame.

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