Not too long ago, "Ropes" courses were all the rage in the United States. These were the outdoor adventure programs that companies sent their leadership teams on to learn about teamwork by climbing through trees on a series of ropes and ladders. So learning the value of patience was not what Dave Orewiler expected from his 9-day course outside Ashville, North Carolina. But that's exactly what he got.
Dave was a human resources executive from New York, at the time "in-between successes," as he politely put it. Not being with a corporate team, Dave was put in a diverse group of a dozen others not part of a larger company. Among them was a teacher, a nurse, a small business owner, and a retiree, all of whom ranged in age from early 20s to nearly 60.
In addition to the namesake ropes courses, the program also included hiking, camping, rappelling down mountain slopes, and canoeing. And it was in the 3-day canoeing portion of the program that Dave learned the most worthy of lessons.
Each participant was paired with another person for the two-person canoes. And while the course wasn't designed as a race, there's a natural tendency to make a competition out of it and learn how teams work together and compete most effectively. So while he would never say it, Dave was probably disappointed when he found out his assigned partner was an extremely thin woman in her 40s with limited upper body strength and a deformity in one arm that kept it bent at the elbow.
Well, After making it successfully through most of the canoe trip, they were coming up on the most difficult part of the river – the rapids. As Dave recounts the adventure, "Riding the rapids had a certain degree of thrill to it, but also some danger. If you don't do it right, you can find yourself upside down very quickly. Our coach taught us how to put our oars straight down into the water and stabilize the boat without paddling until we made it safely through the rough water.
He told me, "Several of the faster boats had already made it through. When it was our turn, I reminded my partner to keep her oar straight and upright in the water. But, once we shoved off, her fear overtook her and she clutched her oar waist-high above the boat. Well, eventually, we lost balance and tipped over.
The next attempt, the same thing happened. And after the third time we tipped over, the cold water took its toll, and I admit that my patience was getting thin. The others in the group waited downstream, cheering us on for one last valiant effort. Dave was embarrassed and thought to himself, 'We've got to make it this time.' What he wanted to say was, 'Why don't you get out and I'll take it in myself.' But, he said, I bit my lip and reminded my partner a fourth time to keep her oar in the water to help stabilize the canoe."
Well, They sped down the river one more time, taking on the rapids head on – but this time with both oars in the water, straight up, and without paddling. After a few turbulent bumps, they found themselves safely on the other side of the rapids welcomed by a round of cheers and applause from the other canoers.
A few months later, after returning home and landing a new job, Dave got a letter in the mail from his canoe partner. During the trip, she had shared her struggles with her disability. And part of how she responded to it was by developing a propensity for competitive bicycling. But the letter explained even more. For her, enrollment in the ropes course was an investment in self-confidence, to help her get to the next level of cycling. And apparently, Dave had played an unwitting role in that.
Before the ropes course, she considered trying out to compete as a cyclist in the Paralympic Games, but had decided against it. She just didn't have the confidence. In her letter, she explained that Dave's patience helped her regain her confidence. She said, "Thank you for being such a patient teacher." And she went on to explain that after returning from the trip, she decided to try out for the Paralympic Games after all, and made the team. Then she closed the letter with words that forever changed the way Dave thought about the value of showing someone patience – She said, "I won the silver medal."
Dave's patience had paid off for her. And after reading her letter, he knew it had paid off for him too.
Okay, this story is a good one to share when you notice that your young person has a habit of losing their patience – with themselves and especially with other people. Share this story, and then have a conversation about it. Here are some questions to get you started.
How many times do you generally have to try something before you get the hang of it? Whatever your answer is, that's probably how many times someone else needs to try something before they get the hang of it, too.
How do you think his partner would have felt if Dave had said, "How about you just get out of the canoe and let me take it through the rapids by myself"?
Has anyone ever given up waiting for you to do something and said, "Here, just let me do it"? How did that make you feel?
What's an example of a situation where it's a better idea to be impatient?
Okay, in the next lesson, we'll talk about how important it is to learn to listen with patience.