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Today's Family Magazine

Facing your fears can make you stronger

Apr 17, 2018 10:59AM
By Stacy Turner

A wise friend shared that growth is painful, change is painful, but nothing is as painful as staying somewhere you don’t belong.  My youngest child learned this challenging lesson during her first year of middle school. The girls she had spent so much time with during elementary school became more interested in things that didn’t interest my daughter. She has always been quietly confident in her own interests and likes, and she’s never disparaged her friends for their different choices.  And with differing schedules and other changes brought about by middle school, the girls found themselves in different classes, with only lunch as a time to catch up.

But about halfway through the year, as schedules and interests diverged, my daughter and another friend were often excluded from the usual lunch table banter.  We didn’t hear about any of this at home until the other excluded friend decided to sit at another table, and invited my daughter along.  My daughter was torn, since she cared about the girls at the table and had considered them friends since they were small.  When she mentioned the dilemma to us, we asked how she felt when she sat at that table.  She admitted that it wasn’t much fun to sit with girls who talked about things she didn’t really care about.  She also acknowledged that they didn’t make any effort to include her either.  When we asked if that’s how she thought a friend should treat her, she decided to pick a new lunch table, too.

She and her friend transplanted themselves to a new table.  They knew the girls from a club they’re both involved in, and were accepted immediately.  The new table readily included both girls in their conversations, which were topics of interest to them all.  Just a few days into the change, my daughter admitted how much better it felt, and admitted she should have made the change sooner. Although initially it was hard for her to pick up and move, she was so happy she did.  And new friendships have begun to bloom as a result. Through this seemingly small lesson, she learned something much bigger -- that while change can sometimes be hard, it’s a necessary part of growing up.

Changes often help us to figure out where we belong by showing us where we no longer fit.  Like a seedling that needed the safety of a starter pot to emerge from the soil, we must be transplanted to a larger spot in order to continue to grow to our full potential.  But even though growth can be good, trading the comfort of what’s known for the somewhat scary unknown can be, well, scary.  But often, change is unavoidable.  We can’t choose when an unexpected loss or trauma takes place.  We can only choose how we respond.

Navigating through the perils of middle school is just one of the many changes she’ll face as she progresses in life.  Situations like this continue, increasing in scale and complexity as we move forward, as new situations and opportunities arise and the former fade away. Interests in sports or activities, participation in classes, schools, and eventually job changes will open new and different opportunities for growth.  And new opportunities can give rise to fear.

Facing our fears helps us realize our strengths.  Facing the things that scare us ultimately makes us stronger.  Like holding up a mirror and forcing us to look, change can show us that we’re actually stronger than we thought we were.  Change can help us blossom into what we’re meant to be.  Which is a great lesson whether you’re in middle school or middle age, or anywhere in between.