I Can Do Hard Things

This hydrangea is in my sister’s backyard. Hydrangeas always make me think of my grandmother’s house in summer.

Miles run today: 8

Baby birds in nests around my sister’s house: 7

Bunnies spotted on our run today: 1 (yay!)

My mom is an avid bird watcher, and our yard while I was growing up was Bird Central.

She knows all the birdie names and their quirky behaviors. Sometimes she and I would sit at the kitchen table in front of the big picture window with cups of tea. We would watch the birds come to the feeder and bird-type our friends and relatives.

House finches were so convivial, the bluebirds true nuclear families with two working parents, the chickadees nature’s hyper cheerleaders. Doves were dim, pecking around the ground, picking up the bits and pieces left by others. I wanted to scream, “You have wings, you lazy bums!”

My mom would get excited when a goldfinch would scoot in and make a rare, flashy appearance. She agonized over the bright red sugar water for the hummingbirds who zipped in and worked around the ants who tried to hijack their food supply.

And forget about it when a baby owl made his home in a tree right across from the window over the kitchen sink. I received nightly reports via phone in my dorm room.

My parents are staying over at my sister’s house this week, and my sister’s house is now Bird Central.

Mommy and Daddy Bluebird have made a home in the bluebird house on my sister’s deck, and we watch as one parent brings food while the other watches for predators, then the other parent takes his turn. They are very courteous and careful with each other, and the mother bluebird doesn’t seem too offended that her husband looks more smashing in his snazzy bright feathers.

But around in the side yard is where the real action is happening. The Cardinal Family has built a nest in the butterfly bush, and the (as my sister calls them) “cute-ugly” babies are starting to spill out of the nest.

My mom knows her birdie facts and said that the cardinal babies will have to leave the nest and remain on the ground, defenseless, for up to 48 hours. They have to weather the tough stuff and gather their strength before they leave the nest. Maybe that’s why they choose bushes for their nests instead of trees, where the foliage starts up higher on the trunk: the bushes’ leaves might help shield the babies from big dogs and lawnmowers.

The baby cardinals’ rite of initiation tied in so perfectly to what Anna Elliott over at “Writer Unboxed” posted about today. Some tasks seem insurmountable, and you have to find some source of inner strength to continue.

One of her personal mantras that I loved was “I can do hard things.”

In many situations in life, the easy way out is so appealing. If you’re working on completing a novel, there are several points where you could give up. Characters become cantankerous and don’t do what you want them to do, plot twists don’t work the way they did inside your head, and later on down the road during the editing process, that beautiful scene you wrote, you know… the one with the unforgettable description and heart-tugging moment… it has to be removed. Forever.

I think Anna Elliott had it just right: you have to remember that only you can tell this story just this way.

And for me, I try to look back on personal triumphs; things I did that I wasn’t sure I could accomplish. Running a marathon and finishing a novel gave me confidence about long-term goals that I’m sure I didn’t have at age 21.

But I also think about the baby cardinals. There are no shortcuts for them, no intermediate branch for them to cling to instead of going all out for the ground. From early on, they fly away knowing that they conquered something big. As a reward, they get brilliant red plumage to share with the world.

What is your internal dialogue when you come up against a major challenge? What is your best advice for others when they are confronted with a brick wall or feeling exposed on the ground to metaphorical predators?

19 thoughts on “I Can Do Hard Things

  1. L.S. Engler says:

    The first thing I thought of when you asked for advice on when you reached a brick wall was my favorite book growing up, Sesame Street’s “There’s Monster at the End of the This Book,” wherein Grover is confronted with a wall, figures out a way to break it down, and discovers….another wall behind that. And another behind that. And another behind that, too! Each one harder and stronger and taller than the last. But you know what? He never gives us, he just tries something else to break it down. He gets frustrated, but he never gives up, and he eventually gets to the monster at the end of the book.

    I never really expected that book to be so introspective, but it definitely highlights my advice on never giving up. If there’s another, stronger wall behind the one you just knocked down. Well, knock this one down, too. Or climb over it. Either way, it’s just an obstacle, and obstacles are meant to be climbed over.

    And the first part of your post reminded me of my favorite thing about birds: When they fly by the windows and the cats get all excited chasing them! It doesn’t happen here as much as it did in my Michigan house, but I love it when Baldur starts chittering at the birds outside.

    • L.S. Engler says:

      Actually, I think I got that wrong. I think Grover’s trying to keep you from turning the page (aka “breaking through the wall”) because of the monster at the end of the book, but you keep persevering and busting through. But, either way it goes (it’s been a long time, lol), it’s a great story about busting through obstacles.

      • annewoodman says:

        Hahaha! We still have that book about Grover at my parents’ house. I always liked it, and my kids did, too.

        I think we all have to knock down walls, and hopefully, we get better at it over time. Good example!

  2. crubin says:

    If I come up against a challenge, I ask myself how badly I want it. If it’s something I really desire, I’ll bite the bullet and press on, but often in baby steps so as not to be overwhelmed.

    I’m impressed with the 8 mile run, by the way. 🙂

    • annewoodman says:

      I think you’re right. We shouldn’t waste our time beating our heads against the wall if the goal isn’t even important to us.

      But yes, Bill Murray’s “baby steps” in What About Bob? always come back to me… and make me laugh when I’m trying to overcome an obstacle.

  3. Melissa says:

    For me, it’s very simple….any time I feel like I can’t accomplish something, I think of my mom. She is a three time cancer survivor…She has beaten it each time. It hasn’t been easy, but my mom is one stubborn lady…and she’s tough. Any time I question whether or not I can do whatever, I think about her and know that whatever I’m trying to do is a walk in the park compared to what she’s accomplished and I know I can do it if it really matters. It’s all in your perspective.

  4. robincoyle says:

    How do you eat and elephant? One bite at a time.

    • annewoodman says:

      Whenever I hear that saying, I get a resistance to it, like, “Or maybe you decide to have some Cadbury’s mini-eggs.” But of course, you’re right.

  5. Bernie Brown says:

    These have all been very brave and inspired responses to your challenging question. I would like to say I have some wise advice from my life experience, but I don’t. What I usually do when I meet an overwhelming obstacle is I whimper and cry and complain and whine and fight it. Sometimes I even give up. I may as well admit it, cuz it’s the troof.

    • annewoodman says:

      Bernie, don’t you mean a “whelming” obstacle? And I like hearing the truth… it’s what we writers try to tell all the time, isn’t it? I try not to whine too much out loud, but when I’m confronting something I find really difficult, I’m whining inside. ; )

  6. jmmcdowell says:

    I guess I keep plowing along—as with trying to clean up this version of the novel. At times I wonder if I can do it, despite my trying-to-be-positive posts. Like Carrie said, if it’s something I really want to do, I keep pushing. But there are times when I turn away. I don’t think I’ll turn away from the books.

    • annewoodman says:

      I think people would be lying if they said they never, ever doubted themselves. Perhaps that’s the most admirable part… you turn away from the things that don’t mean as much… and the books keep on getting attention, despite their challenges. Good on you, as the Brits would say.

  7. 4amWriter says:

    Tought-provoking. I love birds, I’m constantly looking for feathers when I’m outside because I collect them. Each one has its own special significance and magical quality.

    I thought life was supremely tough until I had children. Then I knew exactly what ‘challenge’ meant. Actually, being a mom really threw me for a while and I wondered why God thought I could do this, why did I get children but my sister, who is a natural with kids, didn’t.

    I think that really, anything is hard if we want to do a great job at it. Some people find writing to be easy, and I think they’re the ones who didn’t put their whole heart into it. I really think this is true for anything we try.

    • annewoodman says:

      Ha! Parenting definitely changes you in many, many ways.

      And I agree… there is a direct proportionality (is that a word?) between wanting to do a good job and difficulty. We make it more difficult for ourselves because we care.

      BTW, I bet you find a lot of bird feathers where you live!

      • 4amWriter says:

        Yes, a great variety. I think the most interesting one I found so far is a turkey feather. But there are a bunch in my collection I can’t identify.

  8. David Gentry says:

    When I encounter an apparently overwhelming obstacle:

    — I think about the Brian Tracy DVD’s and their positive messages.
    — I determine if the goal is really worth overcoming the obstacle. If the goal is worth it, I think about the goal before I go to sleep to let my subconscious work on how to overcome the obstacle. I remind myself that I have overcome many obstacles. I brainstorm, sometimes with someone else.
    — I visualize overcoming the obstacle successfully. See Brian Tracy above.
    — I seek help.
    — I don’t give up.
    — If the obstacle proves stronger than I, such as the great recession, I see the defeat as a learning experience that makes me stronger and simply a short delay in my attaining success.

    I recommend Brian Tracy’s DVD’s highly. Integrating the messages into one’s life means changing one’s life for the better. One becomes success oriented, not defeat oriented.

  9. I have been told I’m bloody minded and stubborn (and bull-headed), and it is probably true. When I come up against something that I think is unjust, or if I have a challenge to beat, I don’t stop till either it’s fixed, or I feel I have done as much as I possibly could do to fix it, beat it, conquer it, sort it, or make it better. I have been running since last September and recently did my first half marathon. It was a horrid hilly course and my left knee was giving in at 9-10 miles and the lactic acid was getting me at 10-11 miles but I didn’t stop. I wouldn’t give in and I finished in 2.20 which was slow, but I did it. This was actually harder than giving birth to three sons be c-section!
    I think my best advice to others when life is hard is that you have to be strong, have courage and take a stand. Never give in!


    • annewoodman says:

      Sounds like you’ve got life figured out! ; ) Well done on the half-marathon. I think soldiering through is very noble, and I agree that beating something you weren’t sure you could conquer is an amazing feeling. Thanks for stopping by!

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