In my early teens, I’d often whine or complain to my father when something ached. My ankle hurts, I’d say. I don’t know what’s wrong. I can hardly move!
Now that I’m older and I genuinely ache—like, the kind of aching that illicits an uncontrollable groan —I realize how godawfully annoying I must have been. I was, like, twelve. And I thought I ached—? Really?
My father was appropriately dismissive. When I would say, “Dad, my shoulder/legs/knee/finger hurts,” he would look at me with a lifted eyebrow, breathe deeply, and shake his head. “Growing pains,” he’d say.
“Gaawwwwwd, Dad. It’s not ‘growing pains. It really hurts. Like, really.” The struggle was real, man.
He’d shrug. “Growing hurts.”
At his most patient, he’d explain further. He’d help me justify.
You are growing taller every day.
You’re an active kid.
You swing from barn rafters and ride a semi-wild horse for fun, for God’s sake. Of course you are sore.
Your bones are keeping up with your muscles.
You ran a pretty tough track meet last night.
Did you sleep wrong?
But at his least patient, he told me to stop whining and find something to do that didn’t involve complaining. “It’s just growing pains. Get moving and it will go away.”
I hated his flippant dismissal. But deep down, I knew he was spot-on. Growing pains are just that—aches that come when we push ourselves to change and evolve. Often, the only cure is to stop thinking about the pain and move along.
Here's the thing: I have growing pains as a principal. I’ll think I’m doing pretty well, and then suddenly I am challenged by a parent or teacher or my bosses, and I get all pissed: Can’t things just be easy? Painless?
And then I tell myself: If there’s no discomfort, there’s no growth. I'll try to push myself through the discomfort and toward the growth.
Same thing when I’m pushing students, teachers and parents to embrace learning and change. I'll see the discomfort, and I'll do like my father did and help provide understanding for why it might be there.
You're tired; there's a lot on your plate right now.
Change it hard. It really is.
The plans you made in the classroom for last year simply won't work this year.
Plans you made yesterday may not work today.
The path you thought you'd made for yourself—or a child—may be thwarted without warning.
It’s hard to see the positive stuff beneath all this aching. But it’s there.
But sometimes, also like my father, I simply have to point out (to myself and to others) when it is time to move along: "It's just growing pains. Let's get moving and it will go away."