Trust Your Struggle
Suffering is Optional. Struggle is Not.
I wrote about the Nature of Suffering and Jordan Peterson’s belief that it is an “incontrovertible fact is that Life is Suffering.” Language is an imprecise medium, so context is everything.
To say that Life is Suffering to me is incredibly pessimistic. I believe that our journey on this planet is a quest to transcend suffering and desire and live in a state of joy, peace, and balance. Sean Stephenson has an amazing mission to cure humanity of insecurity. Joe Rogan tears up recalling a Fear Factor triumph. Victor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search For Meaning, wrote about his experiences in the Nazi death camps, and his struggle for survival and sanity. Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose.
If meaning is the antidote to suffering, then struggle is the practice.
The Forgotten Generation
I’m part of Generation X. In January 2019, CBS News forgot about us. In the Vanity Fair article, Why Generation X Might Be Our Last Best Hope, it states, “Irony and a keen sense of dread are what make Generation X the last great hope.” We grew up where the common thread of our existence seemed to be that we all secretly felt like outsiders… in a Doomsday movie.
In Through a Gen-X Lens: A Conversation with Meghan Daum, Daum discusses her latest book The Problem with Everything: My Journey Through the New Culture Wars and states,
I think the sensibility of the moment, which is marked by an almost willful resistance to irony and nuance, runs counter to much of the Gen-X ethos.
I know it’s dangerous to make sweeping statements about the overall attitude or mood of an entire generational cohort (and I know I just did that very thing), but I think it’s fair to say that we approached the world with a certain wryness and appreciation of the absurd that perhaps allowed us to put things in a little better perspective than sometimes seems possible now. Coming of age before social media is a huge part of that, of course. We metabolized the events of the world and our own experiences through personal reflection and face-to-face interactions — which, frankly, made life a lot easier to take.
My parents were typical first-generation immigrants from Taiwan. My father came to America as a Ph.D. student and had a long, successful career in academia and as a scientist. My mother gave up her nursing career in Taiwan and took care of us as a full-time mom. My parents believed in pushing us so we would be successful. As a child, they put me in school early (Kindergarten at four years old,) had me learn the violin (I had an injury as a toddler where I lost a portion of my pinky, so they thought the violin would teach me to not be insecure about it) and we also moved around quite a bit, upgrading our school system (and my academic competition) each time. My parents did this out of love, they wanted to push me to be resilient and able to 吃苦 (chī kǔ) or eat bitterness.
As Generation X, we ate our fair share of bitterness. We didn’t have the hardship of our grandparents or parents in living through World Wars or growing up in the immediate aftermath, so we didn’t have the same level of direct trauma, but we had the echoes of the Vietnam and Korean Wars and the specter of nuclear apocalypse lurking in the shadows of our subconscious. This sentiment was captured and time capsuled in the 1983 movie, War Games, starring Matthew Broderick as a young man who finds a back door into a military central computer in which reality is confused with game-playing, possibly starting World War III.
There was also much more open racism, sexism, homophobia, and physical bullying back then, at least in my personal experience.
On a more positive side, growing up in Generation X was like watching an accelerated time-lapse film of technological history. As a kid, I eagerly awaited Friday nights for my fix of campy entertainment such as The Incredible Hulk, Dukes of Hazzard, and Knight Rider. Every week, I woke up at 5 am the next morning to watch Bob Ross and my Saturday morning cartoons. Over the decades, we witnessed the birth of the personal computer, arcades, the Internet, and the technocultural evolution of entertainment media from comic books and vinyl records to on-demand digitally streamed music, video, live content, fantastical computer-generated photorealistic movies, virtual reality, multiplayer video games, and eSports.
We now have all that, and self-driving cars, reusable space rockets, personal genetic testing, gene editing, 3D printing, social networks, machine learning, quantum computers, Uber for everything, Amazon Prime one-day delivery, and the Kardashians.
It’s like we are watching reality unfold into science fiction. The capacity for distraction appears to be infinite.
We are having a (very Gen X) Moment.
“We are a fractious generation but we can still roll our eyes in unison.”
I’m a father of three teenage kids. They say you’re never ready to be a parent. I certainly made my mistakes as a parent, things I wish I did differently, but one of the key lessons I learned was to allow those we love to struggle so that they can become stronger.
Over the past few years, I’ve been doing extensive soul searching. I’ve been to the Amazon jungle for sacred Ayahuasca and Huachuma plant medicine ceremonies, attended various personal development seminars, joined high-end Mastermind groups, completed a yoga teacher training, bio-hacked, micro-dosed, heat-shocked, cold-immersed, meditated, breathed, and floated my way to a much better place than where I started.
I feel healthy and whole… and my close friends and family relationships are stronger than ever. A lot of my growth was to recognize my own emotional patterns, buried trauma, and responsibility in creating many of the problems and suffering that happened in my life. I recognized that subconscious part of me that liked to remind me that I wasn’t good enough or that I didn’t deserve whatever it was that I wanted. That part of me was unintegrated shadow… and I feel as though I’ve largely processed it.
Along this journey, I met a ton of Millenials.
They call Millenials the Snowflake Generation.
A Snowflake is a 2010s derogatory slang term for a person, implying that they have an inflated sense of uniqueness, an unwarranted sense of entitlement, or are overly-emotional, easily offended, and unable to deal with opposing opinions.
I’ve seen the “Snowflakes DESTROYED” videos and the snark that’s directed at them. Those aren’t the Millenials I’m meeting. The Millenials I’m meeting are growth-minded, humble, and a lot less sexist, racist, homophobic, or prejudiced than most people in my age bracket or older. These Millenials are much more conscious. They have knowledge and wisdom beyond their years, while at the same time having massive blind spots in pre-Internet history and, well, science.
Generation X and previous generations generally have a very traditional view of the world. Struggle. Study hard. Work hard. 吃苦. Eat Bitterness. Make Money. Buy Toys and Experiences. Happiness!
I think Millenials look at the older generations and don’t get it. They see the real perils facing our planet. They see needless suffering in the world. They’re looking at us eating our bitterness and we wonder why they don’t like the taste of our bullshit. This is their struggle.
There are triggered “Snowflakes” of all generations out there signaling their outrage. There’s a lot of noise. It’s easy to get caught up in the drama. It’s certainly an interesting sociological rabbit hole.
So, they say Generation X is the Forgotten generation? That our “irony and a keen sense of dread are what make Generation X the last great hope?”
We are a generation defined by The Matrix, Fight Club, Office Space, and Wayne’s World. When we unpack the layers, these are all Hero’s Journeys about integrating the shadow (manchild) to become a whole human being (or civilization.) We are the generation that created Google and many of the software platforms on the Internet. We are the generation that simultaneously helped build The Matrix and discovered the Red Pill(s).
As Generation X begins to take over leadership from the Boomers (their defining movies seem to be Rambo, Die Hard, and Lethal Weapon… think about it…) the goal should be about integration… and balance.
I believe there’s a collective awakening happening. It’s as though Generation X and the Millenials are going through our collective mid-life crises at the same time. Our “irony and a keen sense of dread” delayed our crises and the Internet sped up the crises for the Millenials.
“We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.” -Confucius
It’s time for Generation X to step up. The Millenials are hungry for growth and meaning. So are our kids. We are their big brothers and big sisters and parents. Our job is to support them in choosing the right struggles and more importantly support them in the struggles they choose.
Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]) is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” The word “ikigai” is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. The word translated to English roughly means “thing that you live for” or “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.” Each individual’s ikigai is personal to them and specific to their lives, values and beliefs. It reflects the inner self of an individual and expresses that faithfully, while simultaneously creating a mental state in which the individual feels at ease. Activities that allow one to feel ikigai are never forced on an individual; they are often spontaneous, and always undertaken willingly, giving the individual satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life.
In reality, every human being has an ikigai. Every human being is a snowflake. We each have a unique gift, a potential that we can achieve. The true struggle is the struggle within, to find the wisdom to choose the right struggle and the courage to face it. There is value in 吃苦 and eating bitterness. The struggle is figuring out how to not just 吃 bullshit.
Cultivating Knowledge and Courage not Outrage
The Art of Worldly Wisdom is a book by Balthasar Gracian, published in 1647 (translation by Joseph Jacobs in 1892.)
A long-lost, 300-year-old book of wisdom on how to live successfully yet responsibly in a society governed by self-interest. As acute as Machiavelli yet as humanistic and scrupulously moral as Marcus Aurelius.
Maxim iv states:
Knowledge and Courage are the elements of Greatness. They give immortality, because they are immortal. Each is as much as he knows, and the wise can do anything. A man without knowledge, a world without light. Wisdom and strength, eyes and hands. Knowledge without courage is sterile.
Fear exists. Fear is real. Courage comes from the same place that compassion, empathy, and love comes from, the heart. We understand courage. It’s the feeling when we see the triumph of the human spirit and well up with emotion.
“Knowledge and Courage are the elements of Greatness.”
Knowledge comes from deep study, a courage to sit in unknowing exploration, and from finding the right teachers. We are all teachers and we are all students. Without knowledge, our courage and feelings of righteousness can easily be redirected. When we feel outraged, we can be manipulated to cast aside knowledge, form mobs, organize violence, and channel our “courage” into other people’s agendas.
We experience a feeling of elation when we see our champions win with the last minute 3-pointer, touchdown, or home run. We also experience little hits of dopamine every time something we post on Facebook/Instagram/social media gets liked, loved, hearted, etc. We feel a sense of outrage when we see A/B tested optimized clickbait titles, Youtube videos, or social media posts that “reveal” Nazis, Communists, concentration camps, false accusations of concentration camps, injustices, or… pick your poison.
A good friend of mine, when coaching a young team that was infighting and destroying their young startup, said to them, “When we feel angry, sometimes it’s because we really want to feel sad.”
It feels better to be angry than sad. There’s a sense of purpose, courage, justice, and even pleasure when we are angry. We need to feel angry sometimes. There is injustice, evil, and shitty behavior in the world. However, we should not be making decisions from anger. There’s a reason that Wrath is one of the 7 Deadly Sins.
“Thinking” from anger more often than not is Simulated Thinking.
Broadly speaking, we have become stuck in “simulated thinking”.
This is extremely dangerous. In fact, I’d like to invite you to consider that this might be the central problem of the moment. To be sure, a whole lot of the ideology floating about these days is a mess. And we will have to deal with that as well. But without thinking we can’t even really take the first step. We are trapped using old tools to solve new problems. And that can’t end well.
The NPC Meme does an effective job of illustrating the concept of simulated thinking. How often do we set out on a mission because “we know what is good” not because we have done our homework on a topic, but despite the fact that we haven’t? It feels right because we are outraged. We don’t need to know the full story, because we know that we are right. This is being an NPC.
It’s a struggle not to be. After all, we live in a world today where billions of dollars of marketing are being made by media platforms that are selling your eyeballs and emotions to advertisers. They are also deciding “what is right” by tickling your dopamine receptors with A/B tested NLP clickbait posts and outrage porn videos that trigger archetypal revolutionary instincts… for profit.
Technology is accelerating and new esoteric religions are being invisibly deployed with deep learning driven by perverse incentive profit motives. Our algorithms are getting more advanced and there is a new technological Cold War brewing. If you are upset by the NPC Meme and are 100% sure you are not an NPC, then you probably are one.
The Butterfly Effect
In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.
Another issue with our exponential technology is that the capability of a single butterfly (a human being or even an algorithm) to create tornadoes in another part of the world has never been greater.
The metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly is a fragile process.
Getting a look at this metamorphosis as it happens is difficult; disturbing a caterpillar inside its cocoon or chrysalis risks botching the transformation.
Today, Humanity is going through a metamorphosis, a Culture War 2.0, a hashtag labeled collective release valve of anger and fear. This is necessary. There have been lots of injustices. It’s also important to remember we’ve come a long way. The Boomer generation is in its twilight. We should be grateful for what we’ve learned from them, both for the foundation of our future civilization as well as the lessons about mistakes we cannot continue making. It’s time to create a new future of full-spectrum flourishing.
There is no need to react negatively and fight against the old system. Instead, we are choosing to create an economic system with rules that generate infinite games that serve the next stage of our material, spiritual, and cultural evolution.
The struggle is real. In my opinion, the best path is for us to hold space and have compassion for others that struggle. We speak our own truth and offer support to trust their struggle. For the people in our lives, we can facilitate Knowledge, encourage Deep Study, and show them the Courage to transform and transcend.
The only path is through.
We should encourage them to dare to be great, but we need to be careful not to disturb the struggle and botch the transformation… and most importantly, we need to do all of this for ourselves too.
The Life Journey is a series of articles about philosophy, self, and life.
- Part 1: On the Nature of Suffering
- Part 2: Trust Your Struggle
- Part 3: Beyond the Striving Journey
- Part 4: Escaping the Victim Control Drama
- Part 5: Grief is the Flower that Blooms at the End of Love