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It's important to try to do hard things, at work and in life
When my 9-year-old son struggled with a difficult birthday party experience, my wife assured him that he could do hard things. I'm constantly reminding myself that I can, too. - photo by Greg Kratz
My 9-year-old son may look like his mother, but when it comes to personality traits, I often see myself in him.

Unfortunately, some of my traits shouldn't have been passed along to the next generation.

A great example of a characteristic that falls into that category came to light last week.

My son's birthday is in early December, but we didn't manage to put a party together for him last year. Shoved as it was between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there was just too much on the calendar to squeeze in another big event.

So, we promised him then that we'd throw a half-birthday party in the summer, and Thursday was the big day. We loaded a bunch of other little boys and some family members into a couple of vehicles and braved rush-hour traffic to take them to a children's climbing gym for a couple of hours of running around like wild animals, scrambling up walls and eating hot dogs and cake.

Everything seemed to go well at first. The children put on their harnesses and watched the safety video. They went down to the floor and hooked up to the cables that would prevent any possibility of falling.

And then my son decided he wanted no part of the experience.

He went and hid behind a piece of furniture in the party room. He cried a bit. No matter what we said or did, and no matter how much his friends encouraged him, he would not try to make a climb.

All of his friends had a wonderful time, and it was hard to drag them away from the gym at the end of the evening. My son did have some fun setting up big, soft blocks for them to climb.

But he just couldn't get on that wall himself.

At one point, I asked him what was holding him back.

"I didn't think it would be like this," he replied, choking back a little sob.

"But we watched the video at home," I said, trying not to sound frustrated. "You said it looked fun, and you chose to come here for your party."

"I mean I didn't think I would be like this," he said.

When he said that, it was like I was talking to my 9-year-old self. Obviously, he's a bit too risk-averse far beyond what safety requires. Once he gets it in his head that something isn't for him, he's also quite stubborn. And then he feels bad about himself.

Me, me and me.

My wife tried to tell him how important it is to do hard things. I completely agree. And that's why it was interesting that this particular experience happened last week.

You see, just as grabbing that first handhold and starting up a wall was difficult for my son to contemplate, starting a new job is a hard thing for me to do.

But that's what I did last week. And it was definitely challenging.

The first few days of any new gig are bound to be overwhelming. I remember when I left journalism about four years ago and started my first job that didn't involve covering the news and meeting daily deadlines. I sat in my cubicle surrounded by people I didn't know, wondering just what, exactly, I was supposed to do.

However, after a few months, I started to get a grip on my duties. By the time I was a year or so into the job, I felt like I had found my stride. And when I left that company a couple of weeks ago, I was comfortable in my position.

I was glad to be able to draw on those experiences last week because I definitely felt overwhelmed again. So many people gave me so much information in such a short time that my head was spinning.

The good news is that by the end of the week, I at least had a handle on what I needed to learn. I should be able to prioritize those items to move forward and start working toward productivity.

The even better news is that I can already see that I am working for and with some amazing people. I can't believe I've had the good fortune to step from one outstanding team to another that appears to be equally hardworking, dedicated, collaborative, productive and fun. I'm already counting my blessings, and I'm only scratching the surface of understanding how much they actually do.

It also seems that I've found another employer who works with employees to make sure they have lives outside of the office. Not every boss would let a newbie like me leave a bit early one day in his first week to help with his son's birthday party. But mine did.

Sure, the days were longer than what I'm used to, and I'm sure that will continue. Work-life balance is not a static thing, and my scales will tip a bit more toward work while I learn the ropes of my new job.

But even though my first week left me exhausted, it also made me feel excited and exhilarated. I can tell already that I'm going to like this job and my outstanding co-workers.

So, Son, while I'm sure you won't read this column today, I hope that you will stumble across it someday maybe when you're considering a course of study that's particularly difficult, or contemplating a job change of your own.

When you do, I hope you'll remember that even a kid who isn't inclined to do hard things who hesitates when it's time to climb that wall can change and grow over the years.

If I can do it, I know you can, too. So don't be afraid to reach out, grab a good hold and pull yourself up. I promise it's worth the risk.
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