The best thing I have seen on YouTube of late is Kara Lawson’s now viral speech to her Duke basketball team. Coach Lawson has had successful careers as a professional player and broadcaster. After serving as an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics, Lawson was named Head Coach of Duke’s women’s team in 2020. She gave the speech to her team this summer as they prepared for the upcoming season.
Lawson’s words are worth quoting:
“We all wait in life for things to get easier…. It will never get easier. What happens is you handle hard better. That’s what happens. Most people think that it’s going to get easier. Life is going to get easier. Basketball is going to get easier. School is going to get easier. It never gets easier. What happens is you become someone who handles hard stuff better…. And if you think life when you leave college is going to all of a sudden get easier because you graduated, and you got a Duke degree, it’s not going to get easier. It’s going to get harder. So make yourself a person that handles hard well.”
This is such powerful advice, particularly coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. I think in the depths of the pandemic, we all imagined life would be simpler. While things are certainly different, things really didn’t all of sudden get easier. In a sort of self-imposed amnesia, we forgot how challenging our lives were pre-pandemic. There were already tremendous social, political, economic, and cultural forces at play that made and make all of our lives more complex and challenging. With war in Ukraine, record inflation, and political conflict, we live in an even more uncertain and fast-changing world. This puts pressure on parents as they look at the world and evaluate the opportunities that exist for their children and the barriers that might exist in the future. And this filters down to children, as they look at the world.
School is all about “handing hard well.” At Colorado Academy, there are learning moments that happen every day. Many, many are joyous moments, when students discover something about themselves or have a breakthrough in understanding a challenging concept or idea. But, there are probably more defining learning moments that come about through hard work and even struggle. Some of my best and most impactful teachers and professors were those educators who made me work hard. To be sure, they were supportive, but they were not in the business of boosting my ego and making sure I felt good about myself. They knew that inherent in learning is challenge. During the defense of my dissertation, I remember one professor raising his voice as he objected to something I was saying. I wasn’t quite sure what to do, but I pushed back on him fairly hard—which is what he was trying to get me to do. He knew that I would one day present at conferences where scholars would attack each other’s ideas in brutal ways.
Does this mean we should all go out and put more pressure on kids? No. Watch the video and note Coach Lawson’s delivery. It’s confident and supportive. Most of all, it’s truthful. We should not bubble-wrap our children. We can’t pave the way for their success by removing all the obstacles that may be in the way. Even if we could, it will not help our children. This generation of students is going to face huge challenges in the future. But take comfort in the fact that they will do so with the academic foundation to take on whatever comes their way. They also need a strong emotional foundation that equips them to not be fearful of taking on challenging situations. Young people are resilient and are capable of so much more than we give them credit. I encourage you to watch this video with your child and have a conversation. Perhaps, share how you overcame adversity and why that lesson was so important to how you became the person you are today.