I worked as a counsellor for Camp Tawingo over the course of three summers. It’s a wonderful place and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in sending their child to summer camp. The culture of the camp, paired with it’s unparalleled staff training, create an atmosphere that fosters growth. During my three summers I attended countless seminars and training sessions. They were always engaging, different, and cleverly nuanced in their own way. They not only created a platform to start a dialog over an issue, but also provided solutions to situations.

One such seminar contained a phrase which resonated with me.

You can do hard things.

Can you imagine being a child and having someone tell you that? It’s so much more powerful than “you can do it”. “You can do it” puts the emphasis on the task on hand, almost as if the task is trivial. For some context, imagine you’re trying to help a 7 year old boy tie his shoes. He’s struggling and you want to offer words of encouragement. “You can do it” feels good to say, it’s encouraging, you’re on his side. Sure this might give him confidence with tying his shoes, but I doubt this moment will carry over into the future. Additionally there’s the possibility for misinterpretation. Put yourself in the counsellor’s shoes: you’re running late. You’ve already asked this child multiple times to get ready to leave, and now everyone else is outside the cabin and he’s struggling to tie his laces. “You can do it” can easily have a hurried tone.

What’s the alternative? “You can do hard things”. On the surface it’s the same, but has so much more weight behind those five words. Just letting the child know that what they’re trying to do is hard, removes any sense of self blame the kid might be feeling. Following that up with “you can do hard things” should empower the child to embrace the challenges that come with the task. If you really help the child believe that they can do hard things, this will stick with them. They will have the confidence that they can do hard things. Consciously or unconsciously they become confident in their own abilities to do anything. Not just in their confidence to just do it, but in their confidence to do hard things.

At the end of the day, life is really just a series of hard things. There are countless studies that show students that are praised for their effort, instead of their intelligence, perform better on later tests. This is because when you’re praised on your effort, you’re being recognized for working hard, for trying to do hard things. These students will then attack future hard problems with more rigor and spend longer trying to solve them than their peers. These peers were the ones who were complimented on their intelligence. When you believe that your intelligence is set, it’s difficult to go after hard problems because you don’t want to fail. If you don’t have a growth mindset, the possibility of failure is terrifying because then it defines you.

If it was easy… everyone would do it.

I love this phrase. It challenges me to continue to pursue things that are hard. To push myself to take on more challenging tasks. To do more than is required of me. To do hard things.

I was once a camper at Tawingo. From the age of 11 to 16, I spent at least 3 weeks at camp every summer. The time I spent in that environment has shaped me into the person I am today. I relish challenges and learning new things in part because of the experiences I had at camp. I portaged canoes, I pitched tents and I learned about rocks and trees. These are the easy things to take away from camp. These are the things you consciously take away from camp. However its learning how to get along with your cabin mates, win cooperative games and deal with setbacks that are lessons we take away unconsciously.

Finding a task hard usually means that it’s worth while doing. Doing hard things sets you apart from your peers, it makes you… you. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.