Struggle Power: Why Hardship MUST Be Part of Your 'Life Design'
"Where we find difficulty we may always expect that a discovery awaits us." - C.S. Lewis
Do you know what this is?
It’s the symbol for electrical resistance. Move electricity through just about any object, and the object will resist the flow of the electricity. If there’s enough resistance, the object may even get hot or glow (which is how induction stoves and old-school light bulbs work).
And this is a resistor:
Electrical engineers use resistors within electrical circuits to get the right amount of power where it’s needed, which improves the quality of life for people.
People flourishing because of resistance.
Of course, it’s not just electricity that encounters resistance. Sometimes we experience resistance as we move through life. We have different words for this: ‘hardship', 'struggle', etc.
We tend to view hardship as undesirable and as something that happens to us.
Hardship is both undesirable AND desirable
While hardship is unpleasant, sometimes downright terrible, it also has the potential to be an incredible source of significance, satisfaction, and strength for us! I have Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), so I’m on a restrictive diet. When the disease flares up, it's really demoralizing. The diet sucks too. It’s inconvenient, and I don’t get to drink beer. Yet, paradoxically, this struggle of mine is also awesome. By having to say NO to many foods, I've become more disciplined in general (more strength). On top of that, my family has rediscovered gardening, and we get to spend a lot of time cooking in the kitchen together (more satisfaction). Maybe best of all, my wife's love for me is made even more palpable in her walking this road with me (more significance).
People flourishing because of resistance!
We can unlock the benefits of hardship, whether we've chosen the hardship or not
Sure, oftentimes we’ve got to go through hardship we didn’t sign up for, but even when we're just plopped into an unwanted, hard situation, we still control our perspective on the hardship. As we've learned from Frodo and Sam, a shift in how we think about serious struggle can itself be the key that unlocks deep meaning.
Moreover there are also entire categories of massively-beneficial voluntary hardship. For example, choose to forgo the 'convenience' of your car and walk to lunch, and you’ll be rewarded:
Your body will get stronger
Your wallet will get fatter
Your stress will be reduced
Your sense of community will be deepened (if you walk with others)
You’ll likely gain time (no defrosting the windshield, no red lights, no circling for parking, etc.)
You’ll avoid some sheer silliness
You’ll get the joy of using your badass, custom-made avatar
An Avatar Aside: The scene above is WONDERFUL. Utter rapture. I get that Jake is ecstatic running because his true body is paralyzed, but I have to think that any of us, paralyzed or not, would be jazzed to experience an upgraded body like that. LeBron, but ten feet tall. If you've seen photos of me, it may be hard for you to picture a body that'd be worse than mine, but I can imagine having one that can't jump as high or run as fast as the one I've got. If having an inferior body - or having no body at all and just existing as a lonely (albeit brilliant) brain in a vat - is conceivable, then why am I not always pumped to have this one and to use it to do what it is able to do (walk, run, throw footballs, etc.)? That's the Stoic approach, anyway. Using these bodies of ours is also just plain fun! It's like C.S. Lewis said: "If one could run without getting tired, I don’t think one would often want to do anything else.”
Bottom line: Hardship is valuable, despite its pain, and we always have an active role to play in unlocking that value (by, again, choosing our perspective on the hardship or by choosing the hardship itself).
This makes us a lot like electrical engineers, armed with toolboxes full of resistors we can use to flourish, only in this case our 'resistors' are specific types of hardships.
Curious about what kinds of resistors are in your toolbox??
Involuntary sorts of struggle
You struggle with inescapable pain
“Lord, why are you silent? Why are you always silent...?" - Rodrigues, Silence by Shūsaku Endō
There are two sub-types of suffering:
Saintly: You struggle with inescapable pain because of your convictions
Spotless: You struggle with inescapable pain you don't deserve
Suffering unlocks significance.
An important note: If you can reasonably escape suffering, please do so. For example, it may be possible to flee without compromising your convictions. As Holocaust survivor and author Viktor Frankl says,"To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic."
You struggle against a world that tends to oppose you
I know, I know. The name 'scratching-and-sweating' needs work. Sounds too much like a WebMD search (I'll save you the effort: it's cancer).
"the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat" - Genesis
Scratching-and-sweating unlocks sense.
You struggle to stay alive despite extreme circumstances
"I've broken my leg, that's it. I'm dead. Everyone said it... if there's just two of you a broken ankle could turn into a death sentence..." - Joe Simpson, Touching the Void
Survival unlocks substance.
You struggle because of your bad decisions
"Don't be misled--you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant." - St. Paul, The Letter to the Galatians
Sowing-and-reaping unlocks sanctification.
Voluntary sorts of struggle
You struggle for something you want
“The usual hero adventure begins with someone...who feels there is something lacking... The person then takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary" - Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Story-type struggle unlocks satisfaction.
You struggle against yourself on purpose
"The shortcut is a lie. The hack doesn't get you there." - Jocko Willink, Discipline Equals Freedom
There are two sub-types of self-discipline:
Structural: You struggle against yourself on purpose, by weaving hardship into your life
Situational: You struggle against yourself on purpose, by choosing the harder path
Self-discipline unlocks strength.
You struggle against yourself for someone or something else
"self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence" - Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
Sacrifice unlocks self.
You struggle to win
"I play to win, whether during practice or a real game. And I will not let anything get in the way..." - Michael Jordan, retired professional basketball player and star of the hugely-enjoyable Ultimate Jordan
Sport unlocks fun.
Really?? There's no synonym for 'fun' that starts with an 'S'?? Besides *you-know-what*... ;)
Many real-life struggles won't fit neatly into just one of the types above, and there isn't always a 1:1 relationship between the sorts of struggle and their benefits. In my example above, IBD has unlocked strength, satisfaction, and significance for me and my family.
I'm probably missing some types of struggle too. Let me know! I'm excited to refine this framework as we learn more together.
Begin leveraging your struggle TODAY
With struggle, and with each sort of struggle, we're in deep waters. There's a lot to explore. In future posts we'll continue discussing the perspectives needed to unlock rewards from the different sorts of involuntary struggle, as well as tactics for selecting and mining voluntary struggles for all they're worth.
What good has (or will) come from a recent involuntary hardship you experienced?
Where do you sense a calling to willingly take on some kind of voluntary hardship?
An important note
Many readers of this blog will have gone through difficulties few of us can imagine. By emphasizing the life-giving benefits of hardship, and doing so in a light-hearted, self-help-y way, I risk seeming tone-deaf. In no way do I mean to minimize the difficulty of your circumstances. The world can be a horrible place. Rather, my goal is to show that any particular struggle can be both unwelcome (because of its pain) and welcome (because of its rewards).
Resources I like
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, because the meaning of Mr. Frankl's life, according to Mr. Frankl, was to help others discover the meaning of theirs
ESV Reader's Bible, Six-Volume Set by various writers, because it's beautiful
Like what you read? Feel free to feature this in your own piece - just be sure to cite me bruh
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