A few weeks ago, my 12 year old daughter dropped herself onto a stool at the kitchen counter. She was doing that thing where you bite at the skin around your nail bed while tapping your toe, making your knee bob up and down a hundred miles an hour. It was stressing ME out.
“What’s up, babe?”
“Really? Cause your fingers are about to bleed.”
“Oh! Well. It’s just that we have to run a timed mile in gym tomorrow and I don’t want to come in last. I’ll be fine.”
“You want to talk about it?”
“Nope.” She walks away.
She’s back. “Okay, yes.”
God, I love 12 year olds.
I could have taken that conversation in a hundred different directions and remained on solid parenting ground:
- Winning isn’t everything.
- It isn’t a competition; just do your personal best.
- Have fun with it!
- I’ll be proud of you no matter what.
- Someone has to finish last.
But that day, I had a specific message in mind, and it was all about mindset. So I sat down next to her, and we unpacked a lesson that I hope she’ll remember long after this mile time is in the grade book.
I asked her this.
Listen, running a mile isn’t going to feel the same in your body as, say, sitting on the couch for ten minutes, or even walking for ten minutes. Your lungs are going to burn, you may get a stitch in your side, your legs will fatigue.
You may even get increasingly uncomfortable as you near the finish line. But if you settle in and you keep running, you are definitely going to finish. And you’re very unlikely to be last.
On the other hand, if you aren’t expecting it, you’ll get surprised by that discomfort when it shows up. That could make you stop running because you think there is something wrong! And then you are either not going to finish at all, or all of the stopping and starting is going to make it take way longer. (In which case you very well could finish last.)
So if you want my advice….
Can you do that?
She was baffled by this approach.
“Expect it to be uncomfortable. That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?”
“And I won’t be last?”
“Okay. Well, I can do that. Burning lungs, here I come.”
She may have even rolled her eyes.
That night, she practically sauntered into the house. Her confident gait gave me the courage to ask, “How’d it go?” as I continued chopping tomatoes for a salad.
Score one for mom.
But more importantly, score one for mindset.
It wasn’t her cardiovascular fitness that got her across that mile line in under 8 minutes…it was her mindset.
She didn’t freak out when it got uncomfortable. Because that’s what most of us do.
We think if it’s uncomfortable, something must be wrong, and so we quit.
But growth is almost always uncomfortable. We’re trying new things, using new muscles, building new skills. And it’s uncomfortable. It’s awkward. It burns.
Whether it’s 10 rejections from hiring managers, 50 auditions where we don’t get the part, 100 failed attempts at a pullup, or 200 customers who choose the competitor instead of us, we can learn to keep going even when it’s uncomfortable.
To the outsider, this persistence doesn’t look so hard. But they don’t know how it really feels.
Here’s the truth.
And that person can be you.
Just ask my daughter.