“The struggle of life is one of our greatest blessings. It makes us patient, sensitive and Godlike.” – Helen Keller
Most people will agree that life is a series of peaks and valleys. If we are to ascend to the next peak, we will have to navigate the often tricky terrains of the valleys. This seems to be the essence of life, and each and every person on this planet will come to terms with this reality at some point in their lives.
Sometimes we have the luxury of stepping out of these valleys because we have voluntarily chosen to be there while chasing a challenging goal that is deeply important to us. We perceive the sacrifices that these high-pressure situations entail as a worthy investment in our growth and progress.
The tougher canyon-like valleys bring up the kind of struggles that arise from unanticipated events that are out of our control. Examples of these incidents include the loss of a job, a sudden change in behavior in someone we deeply care about, or the diagnosis of a serious health concern.
It is indeed tough to maintain perspective when we’re in the midst of a personal calamity. I can recall the muddled nature of my thoughts and emotions while I was in the thick of a tumultuous period in my life. I felt like my whole world had been turned upside down and I felt utterly helpless in my attempts to redeem what I had lost.
It took some time and distance from the situation for me to assuage my pain. At some point in my healing journey, I came across a book that gave me great solace called Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. In my opinion, it is one of best books on how to find meaning and purpose in our suffering.
Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist who was sent to concentration camps during World War II. His wife, mother and brother died in other concentration camps. During his time there, he witnessed horrific atrocities such as flocks of people being sent to gas chambers and seeing dead bodies strewn on the street sides.
While facing this horrendous ordeal, Frankl had the cognizance to realize that the kind of person he would end up becoming heavily depended on the inner choices he made in response to those dreadful circumstances. He knew that although he couldn’t change his outer life or even his fate (he could’ve been killed at any moment), he could use those circumstances to strengthen his inner foundation.
After he was released from the camps, he was determined to derive a sense of purpose from the opportunity that the war had given him. He decided that he was going to extract all the wisdom he gained from his experiences and share it with the rest of the world. He went on to spend the rest of his life spreading his message, enlightening people on the importance of building one’s internal faculties.
This is an indispensable contribution towards a society where the youth of today are hardly prepared, neither mentally or emotionally, for the inevitable difficulties that they will face further down the road. Education systems and parents are accustomed to inculcating in children the academic prowess for a successful career and seldom the life skills for dealing with real-life problems.
The lack of competence to manage the pain that stems from life’s struggles has resulted in escalating rates of depression, addictions and mental illnesses, which are symptoms of a breakdown in our ability to manage stress. Painful emotions are heavy entities that should not be taken lightly. It can leave us feeling weighed down and stuck in a despondent state of mind, which is often very hard to shake off.
The only way to rise above the pain is by gaining a healthy sense of perspective on the predicament we are enduring. We can gain valuable insights when we write down our experiences in a journal exercise or we share our story with a trusted friend, licensed therapist or coach. When we bring our stories of struggle to the light, we release the heavy emotional charge behind them.
Here are some foundational beliefs related to the experience of struggle, upon which you can build your own internal framework of wisdom and hope:
- You have the power to shift a situation in your favor: Although we can’t always control the nature and timing of the events that occur in our lives, we have the power to shift the outcomes in our favor based on how we choose to respond to them. Just as how old, worn-out crops are burnt to the ground and used as fertilizer for new seeds to sprout, we can use our difficult experiences (with the right perspectives and initiatives) to create new opportunities for personal growth and progress.
- Your struggles build your character: Nothing can shape our character as markedly as the struggles we face in our lives. Challenges provide the perfect opportunity for us to stretch beyond our comfort zone and discover personal coping techniques, which were probably hidden from our awareness. A piece of coal can only transform into a diamond after facing tremendous pressure, and this applies to our spirits as well. It’s only when we encounter some form of resistance will we be able to grow into our brilliance while also gaining a sense of maturity and humility.
- None of your efforts wasted: If we rue about the amount of time, energy and heart we invested into something that didn’t materialize as we hoped it would, we could feel a profound sense of sadness and regret. We might conclude that it was all a colossal waste of time and all our efforts were futile. The truth is that none of our efforts are ever wasted because every single struggle we face provides a trail of clues and kernels of wisdom about a better and more suitable way of living. I like to think of struggles as integral pieces of the puzzle of our lives, which can help us make sense of the bigger picture.
- Things can only get better: If you strengthen your ability to learn from your experiences and apply your knowledge in future decisions, you can expect your life to be on the upswing. You will morph into a wiser and stronger person who is less likely to repeat the same mistakes again. You’ll get progressively closer towards creating a lifestyle that is smoother, calmer and more in alignment with your dreams and desires. Even if you do face another adversity in the future, you’ll be more prepared to face it without falling apart because you are now armed with the right coping tools.
- You have the opportunity to change another person’s life: After you’ve overcome a struggle, you’ve gained a reservoir of knowledge that can enlighten other people who are facing similar situations. You have walked down a particular road so you’re familiar with all the potential road blocks and traps others might encounter along that road. You can help them bypass these obstacles by sharing your story. For example, many parents who have lost their children in drunk-driving accidents have started foundations and awareness campaigns to educate other families on the hazards of this reckless behavior. They found purpose in their painful loss by giving back to their community.
Once you have reached that serene place where you’ve made peace with your struggles (or the possibility of facing them), you will be convinced of the tremendous value that these experiences can add to your life. Like the ultimate alchemist, you’ll possess magical powers to use your struggles to transform yourself into a person of character and virtue with higher levels of consciousness.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: What are some of the steps you’ll take to develop beliefs that will help you find meaning in your struggles?
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