when everyone watches you try something you can't do yet


“It was awesome.”

That’s what our seven-year-old has to say about her first day of rock climbing camp. And the second day, the third, all the way to the end of the week—rock climbing camp is awesome. And fun.

So I’m totally confused on Thursday night when our child is in mad tears, clearly needing to offload some emotion, telling me I don’t understand what it’s like to be a kid. That her day was really hard. Her really fun, really awesome day was really hard.

On Friday, for the first time, I linger a little bit after rock climbing camp drop-off. She doesn’t love it when I do this; it makes it harder for her to be independent. So I don’t stay long. But in that few minutes, I understand why she had butterflies in her stomach every morning, even though she loves this camp and doesn’t want it to end: It IS hard.

There are the hard parts that sound sort “well of course” until you watch someone you love doing it over and over again: You fall a lot. You don’t get where you’re trying to go. You try to do something you can’t do yet in front of other people. Oof.

Those things don’t surprise me—although the intensity of seeing her do that in person does.

But I also see this: The place is big, and she is tiny. She’s the youngest girl there, and the smallest by far. She has to keep speaking up to get her chance to climb the routes she wants to work on. She has to find her moment over and over again to ask for the chance to do a hard thing in front of other people who are likely to see fail to get where she’s trying to go.

And that is so big time hard.

But this girl is persistent as all hell, and 97 times out of 100, if you ask her how rock climbing camp was, she’ll tell you it was fun. Maybe the other 3 times, she’ll tell you how hard it was.

I had butterflies in my stomach quite a few times this week, too. A whole bunch of times when I had to speak up and do difficult things in front of other people, knowing the chances were high I might not succeed.

You know the first word I used to describe my days? Hard. Not fun. Hard. The total inverse of my kid’s description.

Why is that?

Yes, rock climbing is more physical than the hard stuff I was doing. That’s part of it, I know.

But also, sometimes I just forget that it’s okay for it to be fun.

I forget that it’s okay for trying hard stuff to be fun when I’m working. I forget to laugh when I fall on my metaphorical ass and give other people permission to laugh with me. I forget to try to get to the top of the boulder wall every day for five days straight and love all the five days—not just the one moment on Friday when I actually get there.

Summer is a time when our work lives—even creative, interesting work lives we love—can feel totally incongruous with the freedom we equate with summer. Maybe we can make that dissonance a little less jarring. Maybe we can remember that persistence at the hard stuff can be its own form of fun.