“It Will Never Get Easier, but You Will Handle Hard Better”: Duke Coach Kara Lawson on the Message Behind Her Inspiring Viral Video that Everyone Should Hear
During our Sunday Paper editorial meeting this past week, we were all talking about Kara Lawson. The Duke Women’s Basketball Head Coach and star athlete, who has covered the sports spectrum from playing for the U.S. National Team to coaching for the Boston Celtics to broadcasting for ESPN, recently gave her players a pep talk about handling the hard things in life. We wait for life to get easier, Lawson told her Duke team. But life never gets easier. “What happens is you handle hard better.”
You handle hard better. If that’s not life-stretching wisdom, we don’t know what is.
We wanted to learn more about facing the difficult stuff, so we reached out to Lawson. The coach, who has many inspiring videos to watch, admits that her talks are for her players (she credits her creative director Selena Castillo for putting the videos online), but she’s inspired to hear how what she has to say resonates further. “Honestly, I think people miss being coached,” she tells us over Zoom. “I don't know how, but [the video] hit a lot of people where they were. A lot of people needed to be coached that day.”
Before we could ask her to coach us, Lawson did just that. A self-proclaimed “crazy dreamer” of a person, Lawson offers a needed dose of positivity and motivation. We pulled these seven pieces of life wisdom from our conversation—which left us feeling capable and empowered.
#1: Every One of Us Faces Hard Stuff
Since Lawson and her team started posting the videos of her team talks, the response has been positive—and huge. “I've gotten so many messages of people just telling their story and how this has helped them,” she says. “I’m always surprised.” But Lawson is more inspired because everyone has something to face. “A school teammate texted me about one of her friends who is going through grad school. She’s in her forties and is a mom and trying to navigate it all. I guess this gave her a lift.”
#2: We All Need a Good Coach
We all are searching for positivity, encouragement, and inspiration—especially right now, says Lawson. “We all need that. I need that.” For this reason, Lawson believes that people yearn to have a great coach. Think about it: At some point, most of us played sports of some kind. Hopefully, you had a coach who motivated you along the way, says Lawson. But unless you continue to play, we lose that unique mentorship. “There's something different about a coach from a great boss or even a teacher,” she says. “A coach is someone that inspires, that encourages, that motivates […] and that challenges you. And that cares about you.” This may be why people respond to her videos. “This is something that people have said to me: That it’s cool to get coached again.”
#3: Life Won’t Get Easier—and That’s Okay
“I don't want to be a hypocrite. I struggle with this too,” admits Lawson about facing life’s tough sides. “I will get in these modes where I’m like, I just need to get through this, and then everything will be good. It can be as simple as once we get through the holiday season to January, stuff's going to settle. Then gosh darn January comes, and it doesn't settle. It never settles.” Understanding that we can handle it is a way to free ourselves, she believes. “That mental shift for me was super helpful.”
#4: Strength Fuels Your Ability to Handle Hard
Most of what Lawson talks to her team about is analogous to sports and what a team or individual athlete is facing. But this all still applies to life. Lawson uses the example of being out of shape: If jogging a mile leaves you winded and tired, you may think I can’t wait to get to two weeks, then it'll be easier. The truth is, it doesn’t get easier, you get in better shape, she says. “This doesn’t change the mile. It doesn't get shorter. It’s you. Your body can handle the mile better now. So that concept applies to everything.”
#5: Know You Can Do Hard Things
Lawson says that she and her coaching staff challenge their players. This is especially so for first-year students. “We're asking them to do things that they haven't done before,” she says. With these challenges comes the “huge responsibility” of letting the players know that they are capable of doing huge and hard things. “It’s about teaching them to understand that they can and encouraging them to do that. It's an amazing life lesson and feeling when you do something you didn't think initially you could do. Once you figure that out, then everything becomes attainable.”
#6: No Matter Our Age or Gender, We All Must Support the Future Female Leaders
One of the most important things we can do is believe in others, says Lawson. She aims to do this for the “brilliant young minds” she coaches at Duke. "I have a lot of young minority women that are super intelligent and that can play basketball at a high level. They're superwomen. My job is to equip them—in every way—outside of basketball and school, to be able to change the world—and to change the world as a woman, you must have an incredible amount of toughness, an incredible amount of competitiveness, and an incredible amount of resilience."
“You cannot sit here, no matter what you believe, what your politics are, and not recognize that this is urgent. There is an urgency for helping the young women in our country become more powerful. There's never been a greater need for female leadership in this world.”
#7: Self-Care Is Necessary—Always
To best handle hard, you need to best care for yourself. Lawson says this means making sure you have “the energy to tackle what you need to do.” Sleep well. Eat well. Rest well. Drink water. Take time away when you need a break. “All those things are part of the handle-hard equation,” she says. “We need to be equipped to have the energy levels to handle hard.”