Don’t Be Afraid of Struggle

Photo by José Ignacio García Zajaczkowski on Unsplash

That title stakes a claim. It stakes a claim to valuing some hardship as a way to grow, to deepen, and to overcome challenges that look impossible daunting horror show at the beginning.

The trick is to see a hardship as valuable. If you do see it as part of your life’s story, a passage that is necessary and hopefully brief, then this tough time will assume its proper size and proportion to all the other tough times you’ve leapt over. You leapt over those times, gathered up your gains, and traveled to this new place where the odds are against you, the mountain so steep, the trail so perilous.

Others may try to talk you out of facing whatever hardship you’re going through. They may use logic, reasoning, storytelling, or outright bribes and cheerful goading to coax a smile.

Do not let them get to you.

This is your hardship and you’re going to conquer it, absorb its lessons, and go on to bigger and better things.

Do not abandon your experience of this time, the doubts and worries and thoughts — but do allow in other ideas, sneaking wisps of suspicion that there is a way through this and that this current struggle means you’re on to something wondrous, unimaginable and unreachable without effort. Distraction and avoidance are not your friends.

HOWEVER, if this is grievous, dangerous, and life-threatening, get help. Reach out to professionals, to those who can help you navigate and emerge safely.

The hardships I’m focused on here are life transitions, moments when you release a role or have it ripped from you — these are transformational portals. Find a new way for yourself after a loved one dies, a job ends, the crowded family nest finally empties.

Those are worthy struggles, part of being a living and experiencing human, not role or expectation, but person figuring out how to live now that there has been this big change.

A friend is very concerned about a loved one. Her youngest has gone to college and the once frenetically-bustling nest is now empty after years of toting and managing and cooking and cleaning and remembering and doing and loving little rascals no matter what.

She’s having a really tough time. My friend sighs hard, sips tea.

I probe around a little, determining that there is nothing marital, work-related, health or other well-being related at risk. Nope. It’s life.

Yup. It’s life.

Being hard. Demanding that a person be present. Insisting that a talented, energetic woman find another outlet for prodigious energy and boundless creativity.

Once upon a time, these qualities were applied to building spectacular igloos with toothpicks, glue, and sugar cubes for elementary school projects. Now, the world awaits.

What will she come up with next?

Whatever she wants.

Can’t wait to see.

The Lesson of the Butterfly

December 10, 2007 by Paulo Coelho

A man spent hours watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. It managed to make a small hole, but its body was too large to get through it. After a long struggle, it appeared to be exhausted and remained absolutely still.
The man decided to help the butterfly and, with a pair of scissors, he cut open the cocoon, thus releasing the butterfly. However, the butterfly’s body was very small and wrinkled and its wings were all crumpled.
The man continued to watch, hoping that, at any moment, the butterfly would open its wings and fly away. Nothing happened; in fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its brief life dragging around its shrunken body and shrivelled wings, incapable of flight.
What the man — out of kindness and his eagerness to help — had failed to understand was that the tight cocoon and the efforts that the butterfly had to make in order to squeeze out of that tiny hole were Nature’s way of training the butterfly and of strengthening its wings.
Sometimes, a little extra effort is precisely what prepares us for the next obstacle to be faced. Anyone who refuses to make that effort, or gets the wrong sort of help, is left unprepared to fight the next battle and never manages to fly off to their destiny.
(Adapted from a story sent in by Sonaira D’Avila)

Tough times yielded wonderful outcomes.

A tough, smart, effective advertising agency account executive was advancing in her career, growing heavier and more dour with every year, even as the awards and client raptures mounted. Every external measure said this was one incredibly successful, amazing woman.

The problem was that it didn’t feel that way to her. She executed a successful lifestyle, but did not feel alive, happy, or connected to her own life.

She took a rare weekend off, went up to a friend’s country place. There, she walked and took pictures and walked some more.

Up ahead, she spotted a brook with mossy banks. Tired after hours of walking, she plopped down on the bank, leaning against a big old oak tree.

Listening to the brook, watching the water sparkle, ripple, and foam, she realized she hadn’t worried about work for hours, hadn’t even thought of it once.

Staring at the brook, poking at tiny pebbles with a stick, she remembered. When she was a little girl, she was the bossy girl in the neighborhood who talked all the other kids into working at her bakery. The bakery served the finest of mud pies topped with sawdust and pretty pebbles.

The following Monday, she took a leave of absence. For the next year, she attended culinary school, absorbed in yeast and flour, butter and heat. It was the happiest year of her life.

Her shoulders came down from up around her ears. She laughed — loud and often. In a candid picture from a pastry class, she looks ten years younger than she ever did in the advertising world.

Resignation handed in, she completed her degree, started a bakery with a fellow graduate. The bakery thrives to this day — although she has yet to sell her world famous mud pies.

Struggle is a part of life. As long as it isn’t genuinely dangerous or overwhelming, welcome it and learn what you can.

In the middle of an excellent hardship, you are pressed up hard against all your assumptions and witness all your usual habits, make-goods, evasions fall away.

You have to come up with something new, something bold, something you have never done before.

You’ll grow your heart, your muscles, your mind, your spirit.

Knowing that all of this is available to you, the growth and the joy of conquering a worthy challenge, it’s a wonder that we don’t flee into hardship more often.

You do want to make things hard on yourself, but on behalf of your future self, your bigger and brighter, bolder and more loving self. If the hardship and struggle won’t get you there, don’t do it. Otherwise, go all in with all you’ve got.