• Josh Robertson

Hardship Happens (to You)

You don’t get no respect from some sorts of struggle.

They don’t care about what you want. They choose you.

Involuntary struggles

Suffering: you struggle with inescapable pain

Scratching-and-sweating: you struggle against a world that tends to oppose you

Survival: you struggle to stay alive

Sowing-and-reaping: you struggle because of your bad decisions

In the last post we talked about how each of us has two selves: an experiencing self and a remembering self.

Your experiencing self lives in the moment (whether the moment is a second, an hour, a day, or a lifetime) and feels her way through the moment, perceiving it from the inside-out. Your remembering self, however, floats above the moment and from her vantage point sees your experiencing self in the moment. Your remembering self perceives and - more importantly - interprets what she sees from the outside-in.

Your remembering self also has a knack for storytelling, because she's a journalist and files away everything that she sees and thinks is important. She understands the larger narrative and how each of your experiences fits into the storyline.

It’s your experiencing self who plays video games for nine hours straight (because video games are fun), and it’s your remembering self who immediately regrets playing video games for nine hours straight[1] (because she knows that, as Mary Oliver rightly prophesied, this is your one wild and and precious life).[2]

Likewise, it’s Ms. Experience who flips out when she finds herself in some form of involuntary struggle (because, in her defense, struggle is nasty, especially the kind that chooses you, and Ms. Experience can't see anything else)…

…and it’s Ms. Remembrance who’s there, hovering above the fray with her filing cabinet full of journals, connecting dots, and proclaiming that all is not as bad as it may seem to Ms. Experience inside the tough moment.

…er, Ms. Remembrance could relay what she sees to Ms. Experience. She’s in a position to do so. But in the midst of involuntary struggle, Ms. Experience can’t hear Ms. Remembrance over her own wailing. It doesn’t help that Ms. Remembrance is also passive and weak. She waits for permission, and since she’s often forgotten or overlooked by Ms. Experience, she doesn’t get many reps. For these reasons, there are many cases in which your remembering self doesn’t bother to say anything at all, even after the involuntary struggle has passed and your experiencing self’s sobs have trailed off.

When you’re struggling involuntarily, or when you can see an unavoidable hardship coming your way, your experiencing self feels that the terrible situation is happening to her, not as something she’s chosen, nor as something in which she has any agency or choice.

She’s right. And yet...

When you’re experiencing involuntary struggle, you can choose to consult your remembering self. You can holler up at Ms. Remembrance any time and invite her to weigh in. Your remembering self may not be able to eliminate or completely resolve your involuntary struggles, but your ability to look to your remembering self and tune into what she has to to say about the situation is not nothing. You have a choice: you can choose to consult your remembering self, even in the midst of involuntary struggle.

And if you ask her to tell you what she sees, your remembering self may, upon being consulted, remind you that, actually, you have chosen the difficult experience. For example, I rarely look forward to social events. It’s not that I dislike people or that I’m shy. When I’m with others, I have a great time. It’s just that social events tend to drain my energy. I’m an introvert, you see, and prospective meetings are minor hardships to introverts like me. If my wife and I have a party to attend Saturday evening, Saturday morning is, for me, a melancholy affair. It feels to my experiencing self that my circumstances - the day’s impending plans - are happening to me, without my consent. As silly as it sounds, it feels like I’m a victim and that my Saturday night appointment is my abuser. When I consult my remembering self, though, my remembering self reminds me that I freely accepted the invitation to the party and that, even now, no one is forcing me to go. My remembering self goes on to point out that I decided long ago that I want a life of deep relationships and fun experiences, knowing full well that that kind of life is constructed by stringing together a bunch of meetings with other human beings…meetings exactly like the upcoming event.[3] What feels to my experiencing self like involuntary struggle is really a case of voluntary struggle, in that I freely opted into the hardship long ago and have since declined to opt out of it.

The recognition that an involuntary struggle is actually a voluntary struggle in disguise is one example of ‘reframing’. Reframing is the process by which you choose to adopt a new perspective on your hardship, and it’s especially applicable to hardships that are truly involuntary. Ms. Remembrance has a bunch of ‘frames’ by which you might be able to see any difficult experience in a new light. Your remembering self can also acquire more frames over time. Later in this series we’ll talk about the frames your remembering self needs to have in her collection. For now, it suffices to say that you have a choice: you can choose to adopt your remembering self’s perspective and reframe your involuntary struggle.

Finally, you’d do well to check in with your remembering self and listen to what she has to say about voluntary hardships.

Voluntary struggles

Story: you struggle to fulfill a calling

Self-discipline: you struggle to submit to limits

Sacrifice: you struggle against yourself for others

Sport: you struggle to win

Your remembering self will remind you that voluntary hardships are good for you and that you should willingly adopt them. You have a choice: you can choose to heed your remembering self’s advice and opt into voluntary struggle.

We always have an active role to play in our struggles. We’re victims of some hardships, yes, but we retain control and choice in all of them.

[1]: Harris, Sam. Making Sense Episode #71: "What is Technology Doing to Us?" 2017.

[2]: Oliver, Mary. “The Summer Day”. New and Selected Poems. Beacon Press. 1992.

[3]: So continue to invite us to participate in fun activities with you, please.

Copyright 2020 Josh Robertson. All rights reserved.