Struggle Is an Opportunity for Creative Progress

How your perception of what becomes difficult changes the way you work.

Kevin Horton
Apr 21 · 5 min read

When we think about struggle, our minds usual assume the negative. There must be something bad going on. Otherwise, there would be no need to struggle. This tension presents itself in a way that throws most of us off.

In a way, it is similar to the water-in-the-glass-cup analogy. The cup is either half-full or half-empty. It comes down to how we perceive what’s challenging for us.

I’m currently working on a cool guitar riff. (If you don’t know what that means, no worries. Just keep reading.) A riff like a short musical phrase repeated in a song using an instrument.

I can’t seem to get it right, no matter how many times I try. My fingers start to hurt like crazy. And I even sweat a little. It’s harder than any riff I’ve ever tried to master, without question.

If I’m honest, there were points where playing the guitar was easy. A few open chords here and there was all I thought I’d ever need. So I didn’t see any point in learning anymore.

The progress I’d made was then brought to a screeching halt, then a steady decline. Because if you aren’t improving, you’re slowly depreciating your capacity to work consistently towards the desired goal.

What if I told you that there is a better way to view struggle?

What if I said that it will change the way you view other people who are also experiencing their own struggles?

Well, there is. And it starts with defining it as an opportunity to make progress in whatever you’re doing.

Resistance Is Good

When we start to feel a little push-back during our challenges, it becomes easy to accept the idea that maybe we’re not good enough. We’re not as tough as other people.

We then begin to associate success with how easy something is to obtain. I wish I could live as easy as those people over there. They never seem to struggle at anything.

Oh, how wrong we are.

It seems that pasting popular quotes on our walls or home-screens is enough to take us where we want to go. Their words will somehow make our dreams come true.

That’s where we’re mistaken.

Sure, we hear sayings like “nothing in life comes easy,” “hard work pays off,” and “complacency leads to failure.” But how far are we willing to take them.

Students at a very early age in Japan are taught to view difficulty as a means of strengthening their endurance.

They believe that intelligence is measured not by how much a person knows but how much they’re willing to do with the knowledge they already have.

Instead of calling the students out to pick on them, teachers single out the one who finds a task hard to complete. Standing in front of the class, they present their obstacle.

You would think that calling them out like that would hurt them. Their classmates would so nothing but humiliate them until they give up on themselves. But instead, other students help them until they get it right.

That builds confidence rather than tears them down.

Their culture rests in the idea that difficulty within a given or chosen challenge brings about a chance to improve one’s life.

The point is not set one culture at odds with the other. It’s to impart the thought that there are things we can learn from those who think differently than we do.

That resonated with me. All this time, I didn’t think about it that way. I wanted things to be a little easier. I expected it, even after I told myself it would get hard at some point down the road.

I’d forgotten that resistance can be helpful.

Consistency Hurts Sometimes

I’d be lying if I said that every day I woke up and immediately felt like writing something. There are some days where writing is the last thing I want to do. But then things change when I decide to do this one thing:

I find that physically placing myself at my desk increases my level of creativity. Combined with a taste of instrumental music, I feel right at home in my creative zone again.

That’s not all there is, of course. But it’s certainly a healthy start.

From my observation, there are those who assume that consistency is forcing yourself to do something at some fixed rate, like the person who decides to write 500 words, 365 days in a row.

That’s not a bad thing. Pushing yourself is good, something that everyone should actively engage in often.

But consistency is subjective. People are different. They think differently. They speak differently. And they live different lives. All of those factors create a dynamic that varies from one person to another.

Subjecting everyone to one method of creative consistency is harmful. And it also increases the chances that they won’t follow through on what they started, which then lowers self-esteem.

Instead,

The creative process is one that allows an individual to create at a rate that works for them and pushes them simultaneously.

That should be the goal. What that looks like will vary, for sure. But the outcome, if done with a healthy dose of patience (and rest), will lead to more and more progress.

Struggle Does Not Make You Weak

Another assumption about doing things that challenge us is that those who find difficulty are the “weak ones.” They are the ones that were never cut out for it to begin with. They should just go do something easy and let us strong-minded thinkers coast through any challenge.

How misguided is that?

I argue that people who struggle with a task they care about are the strong ones. They are going beyond what they’ve experienced in the past and are pushing their own standards.

That’s not something a weak person would do.

Struggle teaches us something: if we are willing to work diligently for the desired outcome, we will make progress.

Now, I spend about an hour a day practicing on my guitar because, above all else, I want to make progress. I want to get better.

In order to improve as human beings, living in pursuit of a meaningful existence, we have to embrace the struggle.

Take as many breaks as you need. But be sure to get back to work. Not because you have to be just like someone else, but because in it you will find growth, the most satisfying of accomplishments.

How we view the creative process will determine how far we’re willing to go.


Kevin Horton is a photographer, student, modest book-worm, and wanna-be web developer with a new-found love for writing. He writes helpful words about creativity, productivity, and the enjoyably simple life.

’Til next time, thanks for reading!


The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment.

Kevin Horton

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Believer. Listener. Twin. Contributor for The Ascent, The Writing Cooperative, Publishous, and more. Twitter | @kevnhortn

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment.

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