On Why You Can’t Quit

Back shot of young boy running xcIt took less than a week before you dragged your heavy limbs through the door and mumbled, “I hate cross country.” You were too tired to shout it. Your shoes were soaked with creek water. Your face, though you hid it from me, was soaked in tears.

You had your reasons, and they were good ones. Running hurts. It isn’t fun. It’s every man for himself. It’s not a team sport. No matter how fast I become, I’ll never win.

I had my reasons for wanting to quit training for my last marathon too. This season was never about winning. You’re barely 12 years old, so I guess I can’t expect you to know how little it means to win. Empty and fleeting, the cheers will always die down. No one claps forever, and cloud nine turns to wisp or rain.

There will always be someone faster (unless you’re Mo Farrah). There will always be someone with more muscle, more talent, more strength, more opportunity. If your goal is to win, to “be the best”, then yes, you might want to pack it up now, because otherwise it would be a long and disappointing season. But that is not why you run.

While you sat at the table and shoveled a post-practice snack in at record speed, I resisted the urge to give you what you pleaded for–the green light to quit. That might be the easier way for both of us, but I know it would only lead us in circles, back to the start at best.

This season is not about your times, your placing, or your accomplishments. This season is about growing in strength, in confidence, in humility, in perseverance.

What I want for you in these six short weeks of “torture” as I believe you called it, is to learn what it means to work hard and to push your limits. I want you to learn to fall and get back up, to put your perceived failures into a compost pile and turn them into fuel to grow stronger and more confident.

I want you to stare down your fear of failure and win that blinking contest, to don a new layer of toughness that you can take with you into every life challenge you face. And most of all, I want you to know and feel the bone-deep joy of overcoming.

There will be days ahead when you will wish your biggest obstacle was to get through a 5k race. I want you to be prepared for those days. I want you to have that unflappable confidence that comes from knowing you’ve faced down your demons, you’ve pushed through pain, you’ve climbed that endless hill, and that you are strong enough and tough enough to do it again.

Ultimately, I’d love for you to be happy. I know that’s a tall order, especially for a middle-schooler. And I know it seems that the quickest path to happiness would be to run away from this cross country season, to wash that stinky racing tee and stuff it into the back of your drawer, never again to be worn.

Back shot of boy running through a finish chute.But the path to real happiness means you have to put that shirt on again, at least a few more times. You have to take the difficult way, the scary way, the painful way. It’s the only legitimate way to the finish line. And yes, I know the literal finish line might not be all that fabulous either given the fact you usually feel like hurling upon arrival. But you know I’m talking about the big picture finish—the kind you reach after you have tried and failed, surged and fallen, leaned in and lost.

Happily ever after is for fairy tales. Coming from behind to win the state championship is for Disney movies. That’s not going to be your story this season. Your story is about the kid who wanted to quit but didn’t, the one who showed up and did the work day after day, mile after mile. Your story is about becoming stronger for every courageous step you took out of your comfort zone. Your story is about becoming the best version of yourself, with no shortcuts, no stopping, and no regrets.

Your story is waiting. It’s time to lace up and get after it.

Do your kids run? Have you ever thought about quitting?

Recovering corporate hamster-wheeler turned Alaskan hausfrau, mother of two and running enthusiast. Kind of a June Cleaver in tempo shorts...minus the makeup and vacuum. Will run to great lengths to get a moment of peace.

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  1. I’ve had the joy of working with some youth cross country teams over the years and seeing them stick with it even when the workout is tough and they don’t want to do all the repeats, when they had a bad test, or they made their mom mad on the way to practice, or they forgot their lunch and haven’t had anything to eat — those are the kids who are going to buckle down and get things done when things get hard. Building resilience has to be one of the most important skills a parent can teach — and one I imagine often isn’t easy.

  2. Love this!!! My kiddos big new thing that makes him want to quit is an online pre-Algebra class that they offer for the 6th graders who are in elem school. It’s stressing him out. And we had a talk about the difference between unhealthy stress and the kind of stress that makes you stronger and gives you grit. I used a sword analogy because he’s all things military history. We talked about to become strong the steel has to be put in fire, and pounded, and folded, and plunged into cold water, over and over. And every time it makes the steel stronger, better able to hold an edge. And someday he’s going to face some class that is the thing that he needs to get through to do the thing he really wants to do, and he’s going to need to know he can stick with it, do the work, fail a quiz, study better and keep going. I don’t always know if I get through, or it’s just ‘Mom Pep Talk #482’ but the next morning he teased me about showing grit to get the laundry done….so something stuck. I’ll take it. 🙂

    1. That is a GREAT example Jen. And I love that sword analogy. I’m guessing since he threw “grit” back at you during laundry time that you definitely got through!! It’s hard to parent through this “building resilience” stuff because my first instinct is to remove any difficulty or stress from my kids’ lives. It’s hard to see them hurting, struggling, even failing at times. But it is such a necessary step in helping them become good grown ups!

  3. Beautiful! I love this. I realise parenting drives home so many lessons for the parent: if you want your children to learn resilience and perseverance, you need to model it yourself.

  4. “Running hurts.” (Yes) “It isn’t fun.” (Not always) “It’s every man for himself”. (Lie) “It’s not a team sport.” (Bull) “No matter how fast I become, I’ll never win”. (Win? Define win.)
    Sounds like the XC program/ coaches could use some reflection and program evaluation. I hope he sticks with it until he encounters inspiring experiences, peers and role-models. At this age sports should be waaaay less about the self, and more how oneself can build and contribute to the larger whole, the greater good. So many social/emotional lessons to be learned through sports, while at the same time finding, testing and developing individual capabilities. I’m sorry your son had this experience 🙁

    1. Thanks, KB. I do want to clarify that these were just his perceptions after the first week and not a reflection of the coaches or program. The coaches have done an amazing job of guiding 120+ 6-8th graders and encouraging all the athletes, no matter their pace. My son was comparing it to the team sport he loves that involves running after a ball–which he thinks is way more fun!. He didn’t enjoy competing against his friends for place, which was where the “every man for himself” came from. He told me last night that now that it is winding down, that he is glad he didn’t quit and that he learned a lot from it. And THAT is how I define “winning”! 🙂