This week I conducted a session with a 14 year old girl who has really worked hard to overcome her anxiety. I felt so incredibly proud of her, that I asked her permission to write a little bit of her story here. Just to help you understand what kind of person she is, she answered, “Sure, you can write my story. Especially if it might help someone else.”
A few months ago she was finishing Freshman year of high school. She says she was struggling with her attitude toward school, and really toward life. She had days where she felt very anxious about attending school. The anxiety could be bothersome enough to cause physical symptoms, or make her want to miss school. She says this really affected her grades.
A lot of kids in this situation just give in to the anxiety. They let it wash over them until they become fearful of any social situation. This girl did the exact opposite. She decided to walk straight towards her fears with a rare tenacity. She has a dream of becoming an editor someday. So, she applied to become the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. She told me it was a longshot because that’s typically a position reserved for upperclassmen. She also decided to join the cross-country team; this is a girl who told me she’s not sure she could have run one lap around the track when she made this decision. She said she wanted to get healthier and have the chance to make more friends.
All summer long she worked on building endurance. She stuck to a running schedule and joined the summer team practices as often as she could. She frequently had to walk, and sometimes felt sick. She said she was usually coming in last on the runs. Sometimes she felt discouraged and thought she didn’t add any value to the team. After a short time of struggling with self-doubt, she gathered her courage and decided to play a different role on the team; if she couldn’t be the fastest runner then she was going to be the spirit of the team. Imagine for a second how difficult it must feel to be inwardly shy and even socially anxious, but outwardly be consistently cheerful and encouraging. She’s done such a good job at it that other teammates have started to notice. Now you are beginning to see why I felt so proud of this girl!
She also was just named the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper as a sophomore. Thought she had felt terrified to try, she decided she had nothing to lose. You can’t get what you want if you don’t at least ask.
This 14-year-old has something most of us don’t get until we’re much older, if at all. This 14-year-old girl has learned to swim against the current of her anxieties to pursue her goals. She wanted more school involvement, experience editing, a chance to make some friends, and a way to get in shape. All of these things scared her, but she went after them anyhow. It has not been easy at all; she says she is just starting to feel the reward for several months of going outside her comfort zone. She has come to understand what it means to work hard for a goal even though the payoff takes time to realize. She is learning lessons that will bear fruit for the rest of her life.
How does this story help you help your teen? Hopefully your child can realize that even though risking failure and facing fears is overwhelmingly scary, it can be done and it can be rewarding. So, for those of you facing tough situations, hang in there because the payoff is somewhere around the corner.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT