There’s Hard and Then There’s HARD.

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By. Dr. Allison Belger

If you follow me on social media, you know that I’ve spent much of my time and energy this summer supporting my nine-year-old daughter in a fabulous fundraising event called Juggling for Jude.  For those of you who don’t know, the gist is that she has been juggling her soccer ball daily to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  At the time of this article, she has raised nearly $30,000 in two short months, and her most recent juggling record is 461, alternating feet.  No small feat, and not your average summer lemonade stand!

As one often does when being personally invested in a significant venture, I’ve learned quite a few things during this summer of Juggling for Jude.  One of the themes that has surfaced for my daughter is how to fight through the times that are “hard.”  During a recent conversation about it, as I reflected on her tenacity and hard work, it occurred to me that I’ve learned much about what “hard” means in the past couple of months.  Here’s a sampling:

*It’s hard to juggle a soccer ball hundreds or thousands of times every  day. This is especially true if you if you are nine and have a broken toe.

*It’s hard to ask friends and family to donate money, even if it is for a great cause.  It’s even harder to ask them more than once.

*It’s hard to make your kid juggle a soccer ball when she is feeling tired and has plenty of other things to do.

*It’s hard to (cold) contact celebrities and news organizations in an effort to spread the word about a fundraiser, in hopes of increasing donations.

*It’s hard to be sure your other child isn’t feeling left out.

*It’s hard to add a new project to a family’s already packed schedule.

*It’s hard to juggle a soccer ball when it’s windy.  It’s also hard to juggle a soccer ball when it’s 100 degrees outside and you’ve already been to dance camp and soccer practice.

You know what else is hard?

*It’s hard to be a middle schooler who sticks up for the kid getting bullied at school.

*It’s hard to tell someone you love that you are worried they drink too much.

*It’s hard to say no to your high school peers when they offer you a shot of vodka.

*It’s hard to take a risk on hiring an employee who lacks the credentials for a job but whose work ethic, commitment, and capacity for growth seem legitimate.

*It’s hard to not join in when all of your friends are giggling about the fat kid and what she’s wearing.

*It’s hard to approach someone who is awkward and shy and invite him to eat lunch with you and your “cool” friends.

*It’s hard to organize meal deliveries for a friend whose spouse is fighting cancer.

*It’s hard to change your lifestyle in order to improve your health.

*It’s hard to train for your sport five hours each day.

*It’s hard to ask for help when you need it but are usually the one people seek out when they are in need.

Each of us encounters hardships in our lives; it’s how we attack these challenges that comprise our character and make up who we are. Sometimes we drop the ball–we quit juggling too early or we pretend we don’t hear our friends giggling as the fat girl walks by.  We act like we don’t see the awkward student sitting alone, or we choose to hire the person who has the “right” credentials, even though our gut tells us that the other candidate might be a better fit for the job.  We accept a cup of vodka punch to avoid being teased, or we put off confronting our alcoholic family member, convincing ourselves that he will stop on his own or that it’s not our place to step in.

Sometimes, though, we gather our strength, harness our determination, and fight our battles with tenacity and perseverance.  We acknowledge the challenges, perhaps even engage in some self-pity, but move forward with the task at hand.  If we are lucky, we may be able to tolerate the time between the positive action and the reward for having done it.  Sometimes, we even have to accept the fact that the only reward we will receive is knowing we did the right thing.  There will be no trophy or medal or party.

You know what’s REALLY hard?

Being told your child has cancer and watching him or her go through a battle that makes any other battle seem like a walk in the park.  And being a child with cancer?  Harder than we can fathom.

Keep fighting when faced with your own personal hard, and always keep in mind the continuum of what challenges exist in the world.  Commit to yourself that you will push through challenges and stick with the hard times, but be sure to keep perspective.  Should you ever be faced with the unfathomable, the hope is that your training will guide you.

If you would like to donate to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital on behalf of Juggling for Jude, please do so here.

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It’s Just a Game…or Is It? Perspective Matters.

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By Dr. Allison Belger

People often talk about maintaining perspective.  When life gets tough and things don’t go our way, we try to make ourselves feel better by keeping perspective—reminding ourselves that things can always be worse, that at least we have our health, our job, our family.  We may take comfort in the fact that, compared to our friend who is going through a nasty divorce, or our daughter’s teacher whose child was hurt in a terrible accident, our life is just fine, thank you very much.  When we compete in a sport to which we’ve dedicated time, energy, and resources, and the outcomes are not in our favor, perhaps we tell ourselves something like, “It’s only a game,” or “Life is bigger than a CrossFit competition.”

There are some practical benefits and relief in maintaining this approach when life throws us curveballs.  Reminding ourselves of the positive aspects and blessings of our lives is a powerful tool to keep us grounded and aware of what matters most.  However, there may be a fine line between living with perspective and overstating the simplicity of “things could always be worse.”

For those of us fortunate enough to have been raised within a loving family where basic needs were met and fundamental aspects of childhood were sustained, the “things could always be worse” mantra can loom large in our psyches, instilled by loving parents who were able to hold onto perspective when life’s relatively minor insults crossed our paths.

But what if we are never allowed to feel pain or disappointment because the message we continually receive is that we are fortunate and that others suffer more?  What if things literally could always be worse and, therefore, our problems are never legitimate enough to warrant attention or sympathy?  All sport, when it comes down to it, is always just a game.  But then what’s the point of training and commitment if it doesn’t really matter?  Why bother with all the work if, in the end, life is so much bigger than the game?

Life is, in fact, about our passionate pursuits–the activities that most engage us.  Might the “life is bigger than…” line be a way of sugar coating the reality and emotional impact of poor results despite our hard work and best efforts?  If our attitude is always that “it’s just a game,” it seems a slippery slope to conclude that “it’s only a job,” or “it’s just a house,” or “it’s just a marriage.”

Of course, our health and wellness and that of our loved ones always comes first; no argument there. But beyond that, who is to say that sport or any other endeavor to which we devote ourselves is “just a game” or “just a race” or “just a presentation.”  One bad day or one bad game may not comprise a crisis or tragedy, but our overall experiences are absolutely the substance of our lives, and their outcomes definitely matter.  These outcomes become the stuff of our lives, and trying to convince ourselves that they don’t have worth can be as problematic as overreacting to a single negative event as though it were a tragedy.

The point is this:  know what is important to you, know what you’re putting into your sport or your job or your relationships, and be sure that you are prioritizing appropriately.  When things go well, how great is that?  But when they don’t, let’s not pretend that life is bigger and that our losses don’t matter; life IS comprised of these events and outlets, and finding a balance is vital.  Live it, love it, and enjoy the successes, but take time also to appreciate and process the downside in order to find meaning and grow with the challenge of loss.  It’s okay to mourn bad sport outcomes, just as it’s acceptable to lament other endeavors gone awry.  Learn from the experiences, the feelings, the losses, and move on with whatever it is that matters to you and warrants your focus moving forward.  Onward you’ll go.

**Related reading:  Had a Bad Day, Now What?