Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Be a Cheerleader

Ever since I've started running, I've become one of those people who think in running metaphors because it provides some great thoughts about life in general. And one of the things that has been on my mind is how endurance increases over time; what was once really difficult begins to feel easy, and what is difficult now won't be so hard in a few weeks. In conjunction with that, I've been thinking about how important it is to cheer people on at every place in their journey.

I'll start with the obligatory running example, but then I'll move on to other stuff, I promise. ;) When I first started running earlier this year, I had a hard time running one-minute intervals. But I kept going, and now I can run eight minutes pretty easily. (Obviously I still have a long way to go.) But I think about the people I know who have been running for a while, the ones who can run a 5k or a half-marathon, and not one of them has acted like I'm ridiculous for struggling to run one minute, or five minutes, or eight minutes. No, actually, they've been my cheerleaders, asking me how things are going and encouraging me to keep running. It would be really jerky of them to give off an attitude that says, "You think that's hard? You don't know what hard is; that's so easy!" But they don't do that, because they've been where I am and they know what I'm doing is hard for me, even if it wouldn't be hard for them anymore.

But then I started thinking about how this applies to life struggles. No doubt about it, what I'm doing now is difficult, and I am working hard. I have three children, and as you would expect in parenting, they all need me in different ways, day and night. Besides the typical needs of children, one of them has Asperger's. Another has sensory processing issues and speech apraxia, and I take him to multiple therapy appointments each week with my one-year old in tow. My husband is away a lot because he goes to school part-time on top of working full-time, so I do a lot of parenting and appointments on my own. I'm in a master's program part-time, so after the kids are in bed, I'm up reading and writing papers.

I think back to ten years ago and I realize that what was difficult for me then (as a newlywed, an undergraduate student, and mom of one child) is vastly different from what feels difficult now. What took a lot of hard work then would probably seem a lot easier to me now.

Does that mean that what I was doing ten years ago wasn't hard work after all? No way! Given the experiences I'd had up until that point, of course it was hard work! It was one of the most difficult things I had ever done.

What has changed over the past decade is similar to what has changed as I've started running: my endurance has increased due to various life situations and experiences. I've realized that my perception of hard work is relative to what I've experienced thus far. I'll bet that in a few more years, what feels really difficult today will feel much easier... and that doesn't make my current struggles less valid at all!

I think people whose endurance has been built up over the years have a responsibility to encourage and mentor those who are standing in the places we once were. They need people to validate that their struggles really are difficult and to recognize their hard work. So many people feel worn out and hopeless, like they're barely keeping their head above water. They need people who have been there to come alongside them with encouragement and validation as their endurance and strength increase.

And that is something I want to do (and try to do)-- be a cheerleader.

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