“If you are going through hell, keep going.” Unknown Author – Determination
What is the best way to respond to hard times?
Tough times greet all of us in varying degrees. The challenge is how to figure out exactly how we should behave when those tough times arrive. One plan is to push through the difficulties and emerge stronger at the other end. That way, our pain can be short-lived. We can also stop the pain and change direction so that we can avoid the hardship and discover joy on the other side.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts – founders of Teach Different and twin brothers with over 50 years of teaching experience – along with Donnell Mclean, school administrator and special education teacher, for a compelling conversation about determination, enriched by the Teach Different Method.
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Dan Fouts 00:01
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here from Teach Different. We’re veteran teachers from the United States bringing educators together from around the world to learn a simple conversation method, which we model on this podcast for you. If you’re a teacher, administrator, homeschooler, or parent who wants to use the power of conversations to build stronger relationships and fight polarization, stay tuned to hear the impact our method can have on your discussions, then join our community of educators at teachdifferent.com for additional resources and to participate in lively conversations among teachers and faculty, free for 30 days.
Dan Fouts 00:44
Welcome, everybody, to the Teach Different podcast. We have an interesting quote about perseverance this week from an unknown author, which makes it more mysterious. We’re going to get to it in a minute. It’s going to be really good. We have a wonderful guest tonight, Donnell, he’s going to be introducing himself once we weigh in on the quote. If you’ve been a listener of the Teach Different podcasts, you know the protocol. We start with that provocative quote, figure out what that quote means, and tell some personal stories about what it means to us. When I bring this to my students, what are they going to say? The adults are going to talk about it now, but always have half of your brain in your classroom, with faculty, or with whatever audience you want to have this conversation with. What are they going to say? That’s the most important thing. Next, we’ll do a counterclaim and push against the quote to see the world from a little bit of a different perspective. This is the critical thinking piece that we’ve lost in our society. It is so important. We’re stuck in silos of thinking, and it’s damaging to everyone. Using this method, we break out of those silos. At the end of the conversation, Steve, Donnell, and I will be thinking of a question to share that we think needs to be answered as a result of the conversation. We don’t know the question now, because we want it to be natural and organic. In your classroom, you want your students to organically and naturally bring up things that are interesting to them. We try to model exactly how it’ll run in your own situations. So, with that intro, here we go. Here’s the quote. There’s an interesting background that I’m going to read from the quote, because we don’t know the author. “If you are going through hell, keep going.” “If you are going through hell, keep going.” I did a little research on this quote, and the first evidence of it came in a 1943 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel of Boston, where someone asked a man how he was and he replied, “I’m going through hell.” His friend replied, “well, keep going. That’s no place to stop.” That’s when this quote first appeared, and now it’s been transformed to, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” That’s what we’re going to talk about tonight. Donnell, welcome to Teach Different. It’s great to have you here. Give a little bit of your background, if you would, and then share what you think of this quote.
Donnell McLean 03:42 – Claim
Thank you. Thank you guys so much. It’s such a pleasure to be here at Teach Different. You guys are phenomenal. Well, just a little piece about me. This is my 26th year in education, mainly teaching and as a school administrator. This quote is very interesting. It’s only seven words, but very interesting, very profound. “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” It doesn’t say you’re staying in hell, it says you’re going through. So, I have this old saying, if you never go through, you never get to. On the other side of hell there’s always something better. Most Christians believe that unless you go through hell, you can’t actually go to heaven. I believe that I’ve applied this to my own personal life, because truth be told, my life is not perfect, just like you guys aren’t. I have to go through hell to actually get what has been promised to me. I really love this quote. It’s a great quote. I believe it’s very encouraging, too. Just because you’re going through hell, doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Just keep on going, as you already mentioned. Keep on going, and there should be some better days coming.
Steve Fouts 05:23
That’s really good. You took an angle already. I have another perspective. You took an angle of faith. That’s what I heard through what you said. You’re going through life, and life is hard, but the key is that it’s not going to remain this way, so keep going. Don’t give up. There’s a brighter day, and not only are you going to get over these bumps in the road, you’re going to actually be at a stronger position. It’s more than just like getting through something. It’s like you’re building something in yourself by having to go through this mess. There’s a lot of faith in that. People lose their faith. I don’t have to tell anybody that. They think that this stuff is never going to end, and that’s when you start heading downhill. Then you think, oh, this is where I’m supposed to be hell, and you don’t keep going. You almost accept it.
Donnell McLean 06:33
That’s a stop. You actually become dormant, and you say, hell is my home, so I’m going to stay here. But, you have a choice to keep moving.
Steve Fouts 06:43
Donnell McLean 06:44
We all do.
Steve Fouts 06:45
Before anyone questions why someone would say, oh, hell is my home. I don’t want to go anywhere. Why would anyone ever want to say that? Here’s why. When things are really tough, and you’re so tired of trying to pick yourself up to have a brighter day after so many days have been ruined, there is something in the human psychology that says, I’m going to manage my expectations. I’m not going to hope anymore, because at the very least, if I think it’s going to be bad, and I’m stuck in it, at least I can predict it and have some control over it. That’s the scary place that people get to, in my opinion. They’re just not trying anymore, because they’re afraid of falling and getting disappointed, but it’s understandable.
Dan Fouts 07:46
Yeah. What I would jump in and say, to pick up on what Donnell said, it’s learning. You have to think of going through hell as learning something. When you get on the other side of it, you’re going to be in a better position. Hell is something that most people equate with despair, but if you equate it with opportunity, and learning, it’s a completely different mindset. I’m thinking about what kinds of stories our students will bring up about when they had to go through hell to achieve something. What do you guys think they might bring up?
Donnell McLean 08:35
I think when our students first came back after COVID. Truth be told, I don’t know if anybody was thinking right at that point. You’ve been out of school for maybe a whole school year. Now, you’re back in school and you have to retrain your mind, retrain your expectations. Teachers have to retrain the classroom. I think that part was very hellacious. Just to give you a personal understanding. My daughter was in seventh grade, and spent the whole seventh grade year doing remote learning. She’s a social butterfly, so we really had to make sure that we kept her abreast of what was going on and continued to communicate with her to keep her social levels up. If her social levels got down, she would go into depression. I believe teachers, school administrators, parents, and students, have all experienced some type of hell coming back from COVID, and some have died. Some have not moved on. It’s an ongoing cycle. Not to talk about suicides, but you see suicides are up, depression is up, and counselors and mental health professionals are highly booked, because all this stuff is going on.
Steve Fouts 10:20
Yeah, you don’t have to look too far. Just look at COVID. Kids are going to have stuff to say about that. The extroverts, as psychologists call them, people who feed off other people’s energies, the social butterflies, are the people who probably struggled more than others. Personally, I’m more of an introvert, or at least I can switch that gear pretty quickly, so I don’t think it affected me in the same way. That’s hell for people to be in a room with their own thoughts. Not to say that meditating, being with yourself and thinking through things isn’t also a positive experience, but too much of anything can be challenging. Kids will bring up COVID. What do you think your kids would say, Dan?
Dan Fouts 11:20
I teach juniors and seniors in high school, so many would go to the college application process this coming fall. It’s very stressful for a lot of kids, especially the ones who apply to 20 schools. I have some that do that. For others, that’s not a stressor at all. For some, it’s making the team. It’s something athletic that they had to go through. Bring it down to something really, really simple. These examples can be good. Just say, have you ever had a really good workout where you wanted to give up, and you didn’t? You kept going and, guess what, your body thanked you from that point on and you’re stronger as a result. If you use these very tangible, concrete examples, in these conversations, they can get things moving. Those are a couple examples that I had.
Donnell McLean 12:25
Good examples. Very good examples. I remember being a teenager going through the same thing, but I didn’t know what it was. Now, through these conversations that you guys are having, you’re informing others that it’s okay to be here, just don’t stay here. Keep it moving in your own process, in your own time, but keep it moving. Don’t stay here.
Dan Fouts 12:50
Oh, gosh, I just thought of another one for me, student teaching. Oh, God, the first time you’re in front of class. You want to talk about a difficult situation. Sometimes you wanted the bell to ring so badly. You almost wanted to ring one yourself to get them out of your class.
Steve Fouts 13:13
That’s something all teachers experience. If this conversation is with faculty, throw out the first year. Around April or May, you’re like this empty shell. You’re going through the motions, then school year ends, which is nice. You have that break coming up, and you can start over. That’s a great thing about our profession, by the way, we can just start over. I remember my first year. I would come home from teaching on the West Side of Chicago at a high school. I was so new and naive. I remember coming home and I would have pudding. I’d have a chocolate pudding every day after school and just sit there and eat it and it would represent my mood. It was just kind of sad and depressing, but it was good.
Dan Fouts 14:12
Steve Fouts 14:14
It was therapy. I have one other image before we get to the counterclaim that I thought really fit with this quote. Have you guys ever seen that stunt where a guy, or a girl, gets on a motorcycle and there’s this long hallway that’s burning? The stunt is that they get on the motorcycle and just drive right through the burning tunnel. They made it out on the other end because they kept going. I’m thinking when you’re going through hell, keep going. That’s exactly what you do if you’re doing that stunt. You can’t stop. If you do, you’re gone, so just keep going. As to why you’d want to go into that tunnel in the first place, I won’t even get into that.
Dan Fouts 15:10
What do you have, Donnell?
Donnell McLean 15:11
Can I have one more before we get to the next?
Steve Fouts 15:13
Donnell McLean 15:14
I think relationships can be hellacial, especially when you’re starting out. When you’re trying to have a relationship, I’ll just talk about me, my emotions are off the chain. I don’t know what to think. I’m kind of paranoid. Does she like me? Does she love me? All this different kind of stuff.
Dan Fouts 15:42
That’s a great example. Sometimes you have to just keep going.
Donnell McLean 15:48
Yep, that’s it. I think the ….. He’s just going to say, keep going.
Steve Fouts 15:53
Keep going. Keep going. Well, let’s get to the counterclaim. Let’s blow this thing out of the water. When you make counterclaims, Donnell, you can do it 50 different ways. Sometimes you just flip a word here and there to see if you can make the quote make sense. Do you have a thought, Donnell, as to a counterclaim to “If you’re going through hell keep going.” What’s a counterclaim?
Donnell McLean 16:26 – Counterclaim
Awesome. The counterclaim I’m thinking of, and I’m hoping I’m doing this right guys. Let me know. I’m going to stay in hell, because I don’t want to keep going. I like being in hell. I like hellacious situations. I like confusion. I like being a drama queen or king. I like people coming to my beck and call every time I need some attention. I like being in hell. I actually enjoy it. I know people like that.
Steve Fouts 17:01
I love it. It’s human. It’s human. I like the mess. Let me throw something in with that, Donnell. When you’re in hell, and you have drama going on all the time, the one thing that you don’t have as much is accountability. You’re always struggling, and all your friends know you’re going through it, so they’re not expecting you to do this, that or the other. They’re like, Oh, he’s gone. Don’t ask him to do anything. He’s going through it. You can get out of a lot of responsibility doing that as well. So, I completely agree.
Dan Fouts 17:41
Yeah, that’s really good. I’m trying to think of another angle on this. One way to think about this, is that if you’re going through a situation that’s difficult, and you always adopt the attitude that you have to push through it, sometimes it’s better to let it sit, and to learn to be comfortable with chaos. I’m thinking of a psychological issue a kid might have. When you have anxiety, and you’re constantly denying that you have it, and just keep going somewhere else, you’re never actually dealing with those thoughts in your head that have run out of control. Maybe slowing down and experiencing a little displeasure, or hell, so to speak, might actually be the thing you need to do to overcome that difficulty.
Donnell McLean 18:56
That’s good. That’s good.
Steve Fouts 18:59
You’re not facing the real issue. You keep going, and then once you get out, because you didn’t reflect, you didn’t learn anything from it. Hell is right around the corner. You’re going to be doing it again, because you’re not learning from it.
Donnell McLean 19:24
What do you think, Dan? You look like your wheels are turning.
Dan Fouts 19:29
You caught me thinking. For the claim, we were talking about the importance of learning by getting through it. And now we just talked about the importance of learning by staying with it. That’s going in my head that I want to know more about, so stay tuned. I’m going to try to figure something out by the end.
Donnell McLean 19:59
While you’re doing that, I want to add something. Another example that I can think of is when people are dealing with anxiety, schizophrenia, drug addiction, or food addiction. Those people are in hell, and there is no quick fix for that. My wife is a therapist and talking with her, it’s good for them to sometimes sit with their feelings as long as they need to, to get to some type of deliverance or to get to where they need to go. It could be five minutes for me, 10 minutes for you, 10 years, or 15. It just depends on what you’re going through.
Steve Fouts 21:00
That’s interesting. It is so situational. I had a thought that just escaped me, and I’m going to get it back. Oh, just the word quitting. No one likes that word. We talk about grit, perseverance, and never giving up. We’re always sharing these types of pieces of wisdom with the kids. A lot of times, the reason you’re quitting is because you’re going through hell. Whatever that looks like. No one is going to quit if it’s fun, and they’re successful. My input here is that maybe another way to look at the counterclaim is to say that if you’re going through hell, and things are not going right, maybe quitting is exactly what you should do.
Donnell McLean 22:03
Oh, my goodness.
Steve Fouts 22:04
Try something else. Quitting isn’t the end. There’s a difference between failing and being a failure. Why be so scared of it? Just quit. Pick yourself up and do something else. I’m just thinking of an example of any kid that’s ever tried out for any sport. They realize that they’re not the one. They’re just not that good. They didn’t make the team. You never want to say quit, but you also want to look at him and say, “you’re 12 years old. Is this the only thing that you think you’re good at?” You’re going through some hell right now, because you’re realizing there are people better and it’s not working out.
Dan Fouts 22:56
You can add another example with school subjects. How many emails do I get every year from people saying, Johnny wants to drop this class, because he’s got these five other classes, and this one is just too much. It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back, so he wants to quit. Sometimes, quitting is the right thing to create some balance in your life. I’m kind of piggybacking on what you said, Steve. I think that makes sense.
Donnell McLean 23:35
I thoroughly agree. Quit while you’re in hell. Just quit what you’re doing. Stop. Come up with another plan. Oh, my God, that’s great.
Steve Fouts 23:46
Yeah, don’t don’t let hell define you. Switch it up. That didn’t work out. All right, next.
Dan Fouts 23:55
That’s so hard for people, especially ones who are perfectionists. They want to be great in everything, and it ends up possessing their soul to a point where they don’t have energy for life after a while. So, it is really important for kids and adults to understand when they should quit and when they should keep going.
Steve Fouts 24:22 – Essential Question
Is that your essential question, Dan? When should you quit or keep going?
Dan Fouts 24:27
No, that was an essential question for…
Steve Fouts 24:30
You know what, I might take that one. Think of that one as a way to approach this. That’s my essential question. When do you quit or keep going? I’ll just throw that out.
Dan Fouts 24:48
That’s a good one to think about.
Donnell McLean 24:49
It really is. Could you imagine if a lot of people were taught at an early age that it’s okay to quit? How much stress would be reduced in this world?
Dan Fouts 25:05
Donnell McLean 25:06
The competition bar will be low. Most people would feel comfortable. We won’t be looking …. at each other. There’d be more trust.
Dan Fouts 25:18
You don’t have to win all of the battles. You don’t have to have a certain status in society to lead a meaningful life. Don’t compete. Quit what you’re doing and find out who you really are. What kind of society would we live in?
Steve Fouts 25:36
Related to that very closely is failing. Think of failing in a different way. I love saying this to students, how quickly are you failing? How many times have you failed over the last month? The more times you fail, the closer you’re getting to where you need to be. It’s kind of related, I think, to just quitting. Going through hell, and having things not work out, that’s the point. We get closer the more we bump into things. That’s what you’re supposed to do.
Donnell McLean 26:26
I love it. To add to your point, as you bump into things you’re learning, hopefully you don’t bump too many times into the same thing, but you’re learning and you’re growing. Who teaches that? Nobody. We don’t teach it.
Dan Fouts 26:46
I love that. I love that the method y’all have is this incredible. I’m going to adopt that in my personal life. I’m using that.
Dan Fouts 26:46
But we can teach it in conversations like this. Here’s our plug for the Teach Different method. When you have these conversations consistently in your classroom, all of a sudden, the kids are becoming more aware of their thinking about these things. They listen to other students talk about when they failed, or when they quit. Oh my gosh, this person next to me, I didn’t even know them, and they quit doing this and it worked out for them. Maybe it’ll work out for me. This person kept going through hell, and learned from it. Maybe I could develop some inspiration to do that, too. We live in our own little isolated worlds. We never know what other people are thinking, but that’s what conversations do.
Steve Fouts 27:47
Use it with the teachers. They’ll appreciate it. They’ll appreciate it.
Donnell McLean 27:52
Like I told you before Steve, this would turn a regular sit and get staff meeting into something with some fire, and something with some zeal. I see my teachers running to the conference room to have a conversation, instead of running away from it.
Steve Fouts 28:15
That’s great. That’s great. They feel like they’re full when these types of conversations are finished. When you can hear testimonies from people and you give your own, it does build a culture, sharing those experiences. I always say this, Donnell, why is sharing experiences so important? My thinking on this is this. Everyone is brilliant, and you’re not giving people a false sense of self-esteem. Your experience is what you have gone through. It’s true. You can share it in relation to a concept, and it’s beyond criticism, as long as you’re ready to listen to others who can share theirs. You have truth everywhere here, and you’re just getting different perspectives on it. That’s a conversation.
Donnell McLean 29:13
It lets everybody have an opinion. I go through that same thought. It’s not a whole way of thinking, but everybody wants to be heard. They might not say it, but they want to say something. They want to have an opinion, and this opens it up for that.
Dan Fouts 29:30
They want to be validated. Everybody wants to be validated, and if you give them the space to be validated, they’ll take it. You just have to have the right structure around it, which is what we try to do here and in our online community with adults. We have a conversation of the month where people weigh in and talk about some cool theme together. We just don’t do it enough as a society.
Donnell McLean 30:00
Why do you think that is, Dan? Why do you think that is?
Dan Fouts 30:06
People are afraid of being judged. They’re afraid that their ideas are unique to them. They don’t see a common humanity out there. They feel alone, and don’t think anyone will understand them. They’ve never been listened to. Steve and I were fortunate enough to grow up in a family where talking, sharing ideas, and listening was what we did. That’s how we learned. That’s how we grew up. But, I think a lot of people don’t have those experiences, so they are not aware of other people, and that other people have the same concerns, desires, hopes, and dreams that they do.
Donnell McLean 31:00
To speak personally, I grew up in a household that was the opposite, where you have to guess what someone is saying. No one wanted to have a real conversation. If someone had a problem with you, you really just had to guess, and not have a conversation. Now, talk about expectations that were not spoken, that were given to you that you didn’t know anything about. People expected you to be this or be that, but they never told you, and now they are upset with you, because you didn’t become what they never told you to become. So, cheers to you guys.
Steve Fouts 31:40
We won the lottery with our parents. Give it to the parents, right?
Donnell McLean 31:46
Growing up in a household where you can’t say anything is constricting.
Dan Fouts 31:54
So, Donnell, you would have wanted someone to just ask your opinion, listen and be validated?
Donnell McLean 32:00
Yes, and also to be able to say, you know what, I don’t necessarily want to do that. Just to have an open conversation. If there was a problem in my household, no one talked about it. Everybody knows the elephant in the room, the elephant sitting right at the table, and everybody can see this elephant.
Steve Fouts 32:20
Wow. What’s scary is that’s just the beginning of the darkness. That could happen, because if no one’s talking about it, then people are bothered by it. When they’re saying something else seemingly unrelated, but it deals with the elephant in the background, pretty soon you’re arguing about something that doesn’t have anything to do with the elephant. It is the elephant, and no one knows where it’s coming from, because no one has really talked about it. It gets so dark, and you lose it. There are so many misunderstandings.
Steve Fouts 33:02
Steve Fouts 33:05
It’s hard, though. It is hard to be direct about the elephant. I guess we have to admit that, too. Why is it? I’ll put that question to both of you. Why is it that we don’t like talking about unpleasant things around people whom we love that we know? Why is that so hard? You’d think that would be the people you’d want to talk about it with.
Donnell McLean 33:32
I think Dan already spoke to it when he said the person might not feel like their conversation is valid, their point is valid, or that they’ve been validated as a person. As a child, I didn’t feel validated to say you might want to watch out for this person. I felt like I couldn’t have that conversation. Imagine if I could have that conversation. Imagine if I didn’t feel judged as a child already, would I ever have had anything to say? Would I have even mentioned anything? It’s the pre-judgment. That was basically my job.
Steve Fouts 34:12
That’s the deal killer. That’s why you never were able to step up. It’s like they’re already judging me. No one’s listening. Why even go through it? Yeah, man.
Dan Fouts 34:23
In this conversation, “If you’re going through hell keep going,” how many students will share an experience where they had to go through a hard time and they will have never shared that moment before? You want to talk about influence as educators, to have that forum be the place where they felt comfortable enough to share something that they’ve never shared before.
Dan Fouts 34:33
Those are the experiences that turn things for people. That can turn it. One conversation can change your life.
Dan Fouts 35:06
We’re making a difference, right? It’s part of our vision statement, Donnell. We want to make differences in people’s lives. This is how you make a difference.
Donnell McLean 35:17
You know what, Dan, as a school administrator, I’ve had those conversations. To see a child, who is 12, 13, or 14, to see their eyes just light up, because you took the time. It could be five minutes where you took the time to put away the cell phone and all these other things to have a one-on-one conversation with them. I have students who are still contacting me today, because I took the time. Not to blow my horn, but I took the time to make sure they felt validated as students or as young adults.
Dan Fouts 35:53
Kids spell love t i m e.
Steve Fouts 35:59
Ain’t that the truth.
Dan Fouts 36:03
Yeah, this was really great. I like how we just kind of riffed at the end here and got into these big picture issues of the importance of doing this. It’s so rewarding when it works. That’s fantastic. Well, Steve, you had that question that you kind of spun. How do we know when to quit or keep going? I think that’s a really good one. Donnell, did you have any that came from this? You don’t have to have one, of course, but if something popped into your head, please share it.
Donnell McLean 36:36
What was that, again?
Dan Fouts 36:37
Any kind of question that you have coming out of this conversation that you want answered?
Donnell McLean 36:43
Yes. How do we, as adults, become more conscious of, not only students, but also their parents’ needs? I know we are all busy, teachers, educators, administrators, but how do we take the time to say, I’m going to focus on what my students and what my parents need. I think that’s one of the things that’s lacking in a lot of our schools today. We get so busy with the politics and all this other stuff that really doesn’t matter, as far as our students and parents are concerned. I think if we pay more attention and make them more of a priority, a lot of our schools will be much, much better than where they are. So, that was my question.
Steve Fouts 37:38
Great question. It’s a great question. That’s really thinking about the hell others could be going through. Why aren’t we more attuned to that? Why don’t we care about that more?
Donnell McLean 37:50
Yes. I know we are all busy. We all got stuff going on, and we’re trying to make sure we’re not late for reports and all this other stuff, but what if we looked at someone else’s hell and began to say, you know what, I feel like I can help you. I feel like I can listen to you.
Dan Fouts 38:10
Yeah. It’s a great question. You know, if being a great leader is taking those moments and knowing how to use those moments of just listening to someone for five minutes, you might get more accomplished than you could in an entire week. It’s the same with teachers. That five minute discussion with a kid after class asking how they are might be the thing that gets them to learn in that semester or that school year. It’s not your perfectly crafted lessons.
Dan Fouts 38:50
A wonderful conversation, Donnell. You’ve been a great guest, with great insights and wisdom. I think we chose the right quote for us. I think we all did a nice job with it. So anyway, we thank you so much for being on the Teach Different podcast, and we hope to see you in the community, too.
Donnell McLean 39:11
Oh, anytime you want to have me back. I love this. Thank you all so much.
Dan Fouts 39:16
Thank you. Thanks, everybody. We hope you’re walking away feeling energized by some great ideas, and have a sense of confidence that you too can master the art and science of conversations to make a lasting impact. We at Teach Different are dedicated to supporting you along that journey. Please visit teachdifferent.com to join the community of educators for additional resources and engaging discussion among fellow teachers and administrators, free for 30 days. We’ll see you there and next time from the Teach Different podcasts. Take care.