The loud “snap” from the trampoline was heard by several people at the party. Rushing into the house was my sister-in-law, carrying my 7-year-old daughter like a little baby. We looked at her right arm – her dominant arm – and new instantly it was broken. My daughter’s reaction was that of disbelief. As we carried her to the car, her emotions vacillated between “I’m OK” to that of panic and fear. She kept asking, “What does it mean that my arm is broken?” We kept assuring her she would be OK as my wife and sister-in-law rushed her off to the emergency room a few minutes away.
There they confirmed she had fractured both her radius and ulna. It was too much for the ER doc to try and fix, so she was given a soft cast and sent home. The subsequent days would be very painful.
When we saw the orthopedic surgeon a few days later, we were told the radius break was quite serious and close to the elbow. This was something that would make it difficult to reset yet too risky for surgery what with all of the tendons and ligaments near the injury. However, the surgeon was optimistic that due to her youth, she has a great chance to remodel the bone. As I write this, she is on her second hard cast with about 3 weeks left before it is removed.
But this story isn’t about my daughter’s broken arm directly, but rather my strange jealousy toward it… not for the cool colored casts or the special attention she sometimes gets from us, her teachers, or her friends; but the life lesson within it.
You see, I’ve never experienced any broken bones in my life. It must have been that every time I knocked on wood thinking about it or saying it, that I avoided peril… but was this a good thing? Had I missed out on opportunities early in my life to struggle and grow from difficulties? There’s a big part of me, at least watching my daughter, that believes so.
I grew up the only child to very young parents, and while they made the best with what they could as my mom and dad they often coddled me and didn’t encourage me to take risks in many aspects of my life. They made it really easy for me. I remember living my childhood afraid. If I discovered on my own that I was initially good at something – be it certain academics or certain sports – I would carry on with it until I was not as good… then I would just quit. I never pushed myself to get better. I would never struggle. If I was good at it from the start and it required limited effort, that was my thing. I grew up with what Stanford researcher Carol Dweck refers to as a fixed mindset.
Dweck explains that in a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.
Conversely, she states that in a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.
I graduated from high school with nearly straight A’s; not because I studied and worked hard to get those grades, but because it was easy. High school, academically, didn’t propose a challenge for me. Because I really wasn’t all that great at sports from the get-go – save for track and field only because I was naturally fast in sprints- I didn’t try them.
My first year of college, I failed 2 classes. I didn’t know what to do at first. While I could have had a rude awakening and changed my habits to embrace the struggle of difficulty, to maybe learn how to really study… an opportunity to overcome, if you will… I simply changed course. This attitude, the fixed mindset, permeated into much of my adult life. I simply made turns here or there at the first sign of adversity to find the path of least resistance; and while many would look at where I ended up in my career as “successful”, I simply got here because it was easy. Sadly, what I realized 15 years later is that it’s not at all where I wanted to be in the first place.
I have been watching and observing my daughter through this broken arm undertaking. She has beautifully moved from a space of frustration (“I can’t do this because…”) to an attitude of perseverance (“this is a challenge because…”), and ultimately to extreme determination (“I’m going to do this because…”). She has developed some great Frisbee skills throwing and catching with just her left arm.
As a father, I am so incredibly proud of her. I know that when she’s an adult she may not remember much about being 7-years-old, but I know the weeks of having a broken arm and the personal growth she will experience because of it will stick with her forever.
I am now in my 40s just learning about the growth mindset. While I am wholeheartedly thankful for where I am today and even how I got here, it’s this discovery – and the incredible amount of work I’ve poured into myself and the struggle within – that has ultimately fixed my marriage, turning it into the thriving relationship it is today, and just in time. Who would have thought that one could rediscover themselves, become a better person, and finally create the happiness from within that was always deserved just by leaning into the struggle, learn from adversity, and developing resilience – all after turning 40 years old?
Sure, I wish I would have learned it all sooner; but I am so incredibly excited that I finally did so that I can share the experience with my daughter. I get to help guide her through the challenges, learn and grow from the difficulties, and celebrate the small victories along the way. And even though she had to take the fall, I can now turn the jealousy of the broken arm into a feeling of gratitude for the beautiful experience shared through it for our entire family.