Teaching Our Kids How To Struggle

Do not give upI have a dear friend who has a son with dyslexia. She spends a lot of sleepless nights worrying about him – about his grades, his standardized tests, and his survival in a competitive society where reading is so important. She works with him diligently and he is making enormous strides – and the little things that we often take for granted are celebratory hurdles for them. It’s hard to look on the bright side when you see your child struggling, but what she can’t see quite as clearly as some of the rest of us can, is that he is learning a much more difficult lesson now – that of pushing through a task even when you don’t want to do it and fighting to succeed. What she can’t see right now is that kids who have to struggle to succeed at an early age are often some of the most successful people in the world because they learned how to push through.

I used to teach the gifted and talented program in a small town for grades 5-8 when I lived in Nevada. My favorite quote in the classroom was “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”. My students were extremely bright and were quite often bored in their regular classes, so they came to me for extra work. It was a dream teaching job because I got to teach what the kids wanted to learn – fun stuff and cool stuff! But I discovered something with those kids that I soon realized was becoming a predicament in our culture. My students were so used to easy success that when they were posed with a difficult problem, they often gave up too easily. Obviously, this is not how you create the light bulb. That takes hundreds of trials getting it wrong.

When I was working with my trainer (now my business partner, John) at TaeKwonDo, I saw a lot of the same thing with the students there. If it was too hard, it probably couldn’t be done. He and I discussed this a lot. How do you teach a child to push through a struggle and never give up? How do you teach indomitable spirit? And why are kids having a harder time learning that now? The answers we came up with have to do with our modern culture.

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For one thing, everything is handed to us. We have remotes, iBooks, apps and more to give us instant gratification in pretty much everything we want. We have drive through and delivery food. We have world news at our fingertips in many forms. We have navigation systems to keep us from getting lost and blockers to keep us from being found. We have all kinds of inventions to keep us safer and better and any questions we have are instantly answered by our good friend, Siri.

For another thing, we have separated parents from kids so much that our kids never see us struggle – they think everything is easy for us. Gone are the days when father and son spent hours trying to fix the car in the driveway (instead of taking it to a repair shop) or fix the remote control (instead of ordering a new one). How many of us complete parts of our kids’ homework for them – especially those pesky science fair projects? I have seen people buy “kits” for their kids’ projects to avoid the mess and the hassle of “figuring it out”. And what about all those trophies for participating?

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Now, as adults we all know that we ALL struggle. Every one of us has our own challenges in life. Maybe it’s paying the bills or a project at work or getting our health in order or dealing with a death in the family or even just our own insecurities in life – the way we look or how much we make. Or maybe it’s something bigger – dyslexia or Asperger’s or cancer or any number of things that we can’t control that we don’t always want the world to know about us. It’s our dirty little secret that life is hard and we are struggling

But our kids don’t know that. From their perspective – especially in this age of photo shop for life – life is a bunch of roses without thorns and they can’t understand why they are having such a hard time.

So what if we wore our struggles on our shirts? “I am insecure”, “I am overweight”, “I am struggling with money”, “I find reading difficult”, “I have anger issues”, “I drink too much”, “I am a hoarder”, “I am neurotic”, “I am so depressed I often think of death…”

Some of us – me included – would have shirts so covered in confessions that it would take anyone looking an hour or two to read it all. The print would be so small that you would need to borrow your grandmother’s reading glasses (and, by the way, it says that on your shirt). Some of us would never leave the house in fear of someone reading our shirts.

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But what if we wore them with pride? What if your shirt said, “I have diabetes and I’m working my ass off to fix that and any help you can give is appreciated!” Or, “I am addicted to alcohol, please don’t serve me!” or even, “I get angry easily – please be patient with me – I will get it right eventually”


Okay… maybe that’s a bit much.

No one wants that for their kids. But what if we said, “yeah, this sucks..I remember working through a project like this when I was your age and although I don’t really think I learned anything from it and I don’t think it did me any good, I’m going to make you do it all by yourself because I think you will learn a lot about how hard life can be and how you can do it anyway”. What if we said, “I remember being in 8th grade and wishing I were as smart as the other kids. I remember getting an “F” on that project. I remember deciding that was the last “F” I would ever get and I remember fighting tooth and nail to succeed. And I remember succeeding.”

What if we said there are no more excuses? I mean, really! Quadriplegics at the Olympics and blind artists and deaf musicians and dyslexic writers!! We are surrounded by them every day!

So what’s your excuse for not succeeding, fighting, and overcoming? And why on Earth are you giving your child an excuse? Let him struggle. Let her fight to succeed. And let them see you struggle and fight. Let them know that you are not perfect.

In our discussion about all of this John and I have decided to embark upon our own experiment… CrossFit Family. This is a class where the whole family comes and works out together. The kids get to see the adults struggle and fail and then do it again and again until they succeed. Our hope is that the kids will learn about the struggle – how important it really is. They will learn that no one is perfect and that there really is no such thing as perfect. They will learn that in order to succeed you must fail – a lot – and they will learn to love the journey itself.

If you are interested in joining us on our Journey to Extraordinary, give us a call or drop by. We would love to include you!


Ellie McKenzie
CrossFit Odyssey and Odyssey Martial Arts

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”


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