I have always wanted to run a marathon, even though I am not exactly a long-distance runner. Before I began training, I had never run more than six miles at a time. I am a former college athlete and gravitate toward physical challenges, but the marathon is my Mt. Everest. I do not really like to run.
Year after year, I said I was going to do the New York City Marathon, but I always had some excuse: “I don’t’ have time to train” or “I have too much going on right now” or “I am not a good runner — running is not good for my body.” Then I started thinking about my scholars and what I tell them about character.
At my school, teachers often talk to our scholars about grit, perseverance, and no excuses. We stress that these values will help them overcome challenges and achieve greatness in some form. We are trying to teach them that failure can be a good thing. Failure can impart valuable lessons and make you stronger. We teach them that striving to overcome a challenge can be joyous.
I usually like to give examples, and I sometimes use stories from my days as a college athlete. But last year, however, my scholars challenged my thinking. They told me, “Mrs. Drechsel, you always tell us stories about how you win.” I realized then that my stories were sending the wrong message. I was not illuminating the struggles and hardships and failures that led me to “wins” in my athletic and academic careers. Instead, I seemed to be telling them that if they didn’t win, they had failed, and that if they just worked hard, they would automatically win.
So this year, when my husband, David, and I run the New York City Marathon together to mark our 30th birthdays, I will have a different goal in mind. I am not running to win; all I want to do is finish. My projected finish time is mediocre, at best. But I do not care at all if I am the last person to cross that finish line. I just want to cross it. I have joined a gym to train weeknights after coming home from school, and David and I go on weekend runs together. When I run, my beat-up college athlete body aches and screams. Sometimes when I finish a long run, I literally break down in tears. On the other hand, with the sore hips and swollen knees comes an incredible sense of pride that I am actually practicing what I preach every single day. I am finding joy in the challenge.
On the other hand, with the sore hips and swollen knees comes an incredible sense of pride that I am actually practicing what I preach every single day. I am finding joy in the challenge.
I did not have to take this challenge on. Given my busy schedule, I had a good excuse not to do the race, but I decided to stop making excuses. I decided I was going to tackle something that I was not very good at, see it through to the end, and challenge myself. It would serve as a reminder of just how important it is for our scholars to learn how to take uncomfortable risks; that doing so takes guts. I am embarrassed every time someone asks me how fast I run because my pace is slow. The athlete in me does not want to admit that I am not as physically competitive. But I am not going to let that stop me because my goal is to cross the finish line.
I want my scholars to feel empowered to pursue their own goals and know that no matter how many times they fail or how ugly it might look on the way there, they can still succeed if they show grit and perseverance and don’t make excuses. Along the way, I know they will find joy in the struggle.
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