The school where I teach has a really neat program called the Ocean Lab. The program allows our students to learn about and explore ocean animals, erosion, weather, and other interesting science topics.
Last week we took them to the beach to measure wind direction, speed, tides, and temperature. While the leader of the Ocean Lab was engaging our students, I took a minute to look around and take in the scene around me.
Just down from the boardwalk where we were standing, was a family and their baby. I don’t know exactly how old the baby was, but probably somewhere around one year. The two parents were sitting and talking, and while they were giving the baby some attention, they weren’t 100% focused on the baby.
They baby was laying on his stomach on a towel, and trying over and over and over again to lift his head up and keep it up. It was interesting to watch. The parents weren’t cheering him on, or helping lift him up halfway, he was just absolutely struggling with lifting his head up. He would get it up a little, and then fall back down, then get it up a little and fall back down. Sometimes, the rest of his body would move, but not his head, and you could tell he was REALLY struggling on those attempts. But he would rest a second, and then start again.
In a short while, his strength and understanding will be built up, after many, many reps of effort and “failure” and he will be able to lift his head up on his own.
After that he will have to learn how to crawl so he can move about in his home. There will be many times when he can’t go far because he gets tired, or off balance, or because his arms and legs haven’t yet figured out how to work together. So he will have to stop, and start, and take a break, and try again.
After he can crawl, he eventually tries to stand, and then one day walk. Again, his legs will have to build up strength, he will have to learn to balance, and he will experience many falls, and bumps. It must be very frustrating for a child that young to stop and start so many times. To make progress one day and then struggle the next to stand up at all.
And babies, they have to learn EVERYTHING. And important stuff, like lifting your head up, and walking, and eating. And they mess up a lot along the way. They fall down a lot, the spill stuff, they get hurt, but they NEVER QUIT.
Imagine if a baby got so frustrated with not being able to walk that they just quit trying, because it was hard, and because they didn’t see success right away. Imagine if they were content to just lay on their stomach, or their back, and never worked to lift their head up to see the world around them.
I wonder when we learn to quit. Because we were all babies at some point, and we had some powerful resilience at that age. With a little bit of help, but a serious amount of determination, we went from a red faced, crying, pooping baby, to someone who could walk, talk, run, eat, and speak for themselves. It is crazy sometimes for me and my wife when we look at our kids, and marvel at how far they have come from birth until now. It is hard to imagine that they were once small enough to hold in one hand, and that they were able to go from a floating little jelly bean to where they are now.
And then, in some instances, we stop trying to tackle the seemingly insurmountable odds. We start quitting when things got hard. We start to be satisfied with laying on the ground and just watching everything around us, rather than being actively involved. When we failed a couple of times, we quit getting back up. We get more frustrated with the starts and stops, and began stopping on the stops. We quit celebrating our small victories with the same vigor and excitement that we celebrate our first steps. We start listening to ourselves, instead of the positive encouragement that we should be SPEAKING to ourselves.
Not always, mind you, and not everyone, but that unshakable determination lessens. Maybe there is some practical reason. Maybe there is something about responsibility, and more is at risk, and we have a greater understanding, or the stakes are higher.
But maybe we need to be more like a baby. Maybe we need to quit focusing on all the stops and focus on the starts. Maybe we need to lift our head up, again and again and again, and when we get tired, take a rest, and then start trying again. I don’t know when the quitting begins, or where it comes from. But I do think there are plenty of times in our adult lives that we need to be more like a baby, if we want to do the things that matter most to us.