4 Valuable Lessons on Leadership & Perseverance from a 12-Year-Old

How often in life have you almost – or completely – given up on something…even when you’ve been working hard for it? 

It happens to many of us. Recently, my 12-year old son, Peyton, gifted me with some valuable lessons related to leadership and perseverance that I think are applicable for many people; so I want to share them.

But before I get to the lessons, I want to refresh you on how we define leadership:

Maximizing our positive impact on the world by becoming our best,  fully authentic selves and supporting those around us to break past barriers and step into their greatness.

This is important, because EVERY ONE OF US has an opportunity to show up as a leader in our life; it’s not about a title or role. And, yet, the first part of leadership for many of us can be the hardest – becoming our best, fully authentic self. At the same time, we know that self leadership is critical if we are going to lead and influence others around us.

What does this have to do with my son? Well, you see, Peyton has been involved in Taekwondo for a little more than 3.5 years. About two years ago, he was invited to join the Black Belt Club; with this is a commitment to ride out the ups and downs and keep doing the work to eventually test for and earn a black belt. He was doing well and continued to progress – even during Covid when lessons and belt graduations had to be done via Zoom. Then life happened. 

Peyton started middle school last fall – which by itself is a big adjustment. He also moved up a level in his swim team and started having swim team practices three times per week; add that on top of Taewkondo being twice per week, and that’s a lot. We made a point to approach this with some sanity; if he didn’t want to swim or do Taekwondo one day, we’d skip. After all, he’s only in 6th grade. We didn’t want him to feel too stressed or overwhelmed.

Then the fall of sicknesses ran through our household, and Peyton wasn’t able to attend Taekwondo for over 6 weeks or so. That absence turned into talk like:

  • “I don’t like it anymore”
  • “It’s not fun”
  • “I don’t want to do it anymore; I want to quit.”

We let it be for a bit and didn’t want to push him. Fast forward a few more weeks, and Master Jones from his dojang called to check in. I told him that Peyton was in a slump and that I didn’t want to force him to do anything, that he’s super scheduled, and I also hope he doesn’t give up entirely. Master Jones suggested we come in and have a meeting with him – which we did. He didn’t pressure Peyton but asked some great questions to help Peyton sift through his thinking. He also offered to do some individual sessions with Peyton to get him caught back up so he wouldn’t feel behind if he rejoined the group classes.

Peyton agreed to think about it – which he did for several more weeks. My husband and I both shared with Peyton that we think he’ll regret quitting when he’s getting so close to earning that black belt. I also pointed out to him that every time he earned another stripe, he was excited; I think he was forgetting about the parts he enjoys. So we agreed he would do the individual sessions with Master Jones and see how he feels.

He hadn’t lost much in the way of technique or power. And Master Jones informed Peyton that he was only 1 stripe away from earning the next belt – the probationary belt; and if he continues, he would earn his first black belt in December. That perked up Peyton big time! 

Peyton had a 4-week break from swimming between March and April, so he rejoined the Taekwondo classes twice per week. In addition to the usual form and techniques, he had to write a short essay about his Taekwondo journey and what it means to him and also help show leadership during the classes. Then today, we proudly celebrated him as he graduated to his probationary belt and finally mastered doing the board break with one of the most challenging kicks. Woo hoo! Peyton was beaming with pride as well and is already talking about the future and earning multiple degrees of black belt. 

Here are the lessons I’m taking from this entire experience that I hope are helpful for you:

LESSON 1: We can renegotiate expectations. 

You can advocate for yourself; after all, only you know what works best for you. When Peyton reengaged with Taekwondo, we renegotiated expectations on his participation and said that once per week was all he could commit to; he’s moved up in swimming again and has practices four times per week. And guess what? Master Jones supports this. We also set expectations about his attendance with his swim coaches; we want him to grow and have fun without unnecessary stress. 

How often do you assume parameters and expectations are set in stone and then beat yourself up or get frustrated if you can’t meet them (or push yourself too hard in order to meet them)? If a 12-year old can renegotiate with multiple coaches and be heard and respected for it, I’d suggest you can as well.


LESSON 2: We can ask for – and accept – help.

It’s humbling to admit we need support and help. Yet, we aren’t meant to go it alone. Accepting Master Jones’ generous offer for individual sessions wasn’t easy for Peyton to do; but it was EXACTLY what he needed to get back in it, feel supported, and grow his confidence that he wasn’t behind after such a long absence.

I work with so many leaders and teams that have a strong tendency to do it all themselves – meaning they don’t ask for or easily accept help from others. But when we try to do it all ourselves, we rob others of the opportunity to meaningfully contribute to us and feel valued. The strongest, bravest people in the world don’t go it alone. They lean on their support system and have people to help them break past barriers and step into their greatness. If you’re a do-it-yourself type of person, I invite you to start asking for help a little more and notice what opens up for you as a result.


LESSON 3: Sometimes we need to take breaks. 

Pushing ourselves when we’re exhausted and stressed isn’t helpful. Sometimes we need to rest and need a break. It’s okay. When we do resume, usually we’re refreshed and have newfound clarity and energy. For Peyton, this was a 5-month break from Taekwondo. If he didn’t have that break, we might have been celebrating his black belt graduation today rather than probationary; but that doesn’t matter. He’s in a better mental space and is on track in a way that works for him.

Maybe for you the opportunity is to take a true break to unplug from work on weekends and vacation. Or maybe you’d benefit from taking a break from something in your routine that is feeling draining right now. Athletes know that rest and recovery is a key part of their training. We need rest and recovery as well. And sometimes, we just need a break from things to be able to gain clarity and move forward with greater intention and energy.


LESSON 4: We grow when we don’t give up on ourselves.

At the time, it seemed easier to Peyton to just cut his losses and be done with Taekwondo. But signing up for the black belt club is about planning for the downs and when he doesn’t feel like going anymore or gets frustrated and wants to give up. It’s having a commitment to the goal and self to work through the tough seasons.

The growth we’ve seen in him in just the past few weeks from deciding to not give up on himself and all he’s worked for is almost magical. And I know this will stick with him in so many other areas of life. The times in my life when I have wanted to give up but kept going and leaned on my inner strength (and others) are those that inspire me the most – and that keep me going when I get in a funk. It’s NORMAL to have times when we want to tap out; it’s courageous to lean on others and rally our resourcefulness to move through tough seasons and see what we’re made of.


This entire experience has inspired me to get into action on some things that I’ve put on the back burner and areas where I’ve been holding myself back. I may not be trying to earn a black belt in Taekwondo, but I can have a black belt attitude. And I invite you to consider what might open up for you if you applied these lessons – and a little black belt attitude – in your life.


Stay brave. Stay human. Stay safe. And never dull your sparkle!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top