Do You Ever Struggle? Here’s Why That’s Good.
“What is wrong with me? Why is this so hard?”
I’ve heard those words numerous times from coaching clients over the years. You’ve heard them, too. You’ve probably said them, as have I. We’ve bought into the idea that if we’re smart and diligent, life should be pretty easy. And if something isn’t easy, including life itself, that means we’re doing it wrong.
Everyone struggles. You know that’s true, yet you still probably criticize yourself for some of the challenges you face, as if you’re a failure already just because it’s hard. Social media doesn’t help. Most of your friends and connections eagerly share glorious end results … and that’s all you see. It creates a false sense of effortlessness.
Struggle is a sign of life. It means you’re not a robot. You’re a real human being working it out. Not that life always has to be hard (yikes, that’s a depressing thought), but a meaningful life inherently includes some difficulty. And when you get two non-robot real human beings working together, i.e., attempting to communicate, well… you’re going to face some challenges. Don’t be discouraged. Those challenges can earn you some valuable rewards. Here are three things you gain when you’re willing to struggle:
Moving forward takes effort. Personal growth, organizational change, or simply getting a project done all take work. Learning something new, whether a simple fact, a skill, or a complete brain bending mindset shift, requires spending energy. Sometimes change is natural and easy. But often, it includes challenge and even pain. The more growth you experience in a short amount of time, the more painful and difficult it is. (Ask any teenager with growing pains; I wouldn’t wish that on anybody!)
Learning to communicate in new ways can lead to great progress, too, but it’s not easy. It can feel like you’re scaling Everest with each interaction. Sometimes clients are nervous (or downright scared) when I suggest they try a new approach. Then they come back elated when it led to a breakthrough in a difficult relationship or they gained some clarity or they simply got what they asked for. Recently, I gave a client an assignment and at her next session she was downright depressed over how HARD the change was to make. I encouraged her and she kept at it. Within a few weeks she was experiencing progress and perhaps something even greater: Hope. She felt hopeful about her future and confident in her ability to make lasting changes. As they say, with challenge comes change.
How many great artists can you think of who lived a charmed life? When I was studying music in college, my music history teacher said that Felix Mendelssohn (famous for the traditional Wedding March) was probably one of the greatest compositional talents in modern history, but because he’d lived a relatively easy, tragedy-free life, his music lacked depth. It is light, airy, and lovely… yet doesn’t exactly speak to your soul. Contrast that with Beethoven, one of the greatest loved Classical composers even today. His life story begins with abuse and ends with losing his hearing, and his music captures the intensity and turmoil and emotional complexity of such a life.
Just as trees need wind to grow strong and rains to develop deep roots, you need some storms in your life to develop strength and depth, too. It’s from those times of struggle that you gain the ability to relate to others, provide insight and inspiration, and grow in intuition, experience, and wisdom. From struggle you gain mastery. “The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.”
Mastery in communication is no different. You must be willing to have difficult conversations, practice empathy, listen to someone who is wrong, stand up for what you believe, back down when the relationship is worth more than the issue, share your true feelings, be vulnerable enough to ask for what you need, and be authentic even when it’s scary. This is hard word. It takes practice. It can be painful. (Or at least awkward!) But it leads to rich relationships, deeper interactions, integrity, and confidence. It’s worth the struggle.
3) A meaningful life
As attractive as an easy life sounds, it wouldn’t take long for an utter lack of challenge, difficulty, and risk to bore you to tears. How many days in a row could you spend alone on a beach doing nothing before you’d be begging for some camaraderie, stimulation, excitement, or change? 7? 30? 365? It wouldn’t take long. In her book, The Upside of Stress, Kelly McGonigal cites studies and examples that show a happy life is not a stress-free life (pg. 64). You stress over things you care about. If there’s nothing in your life you care about, after awhile you start to wonder what the point of life even is.
Communication involves dealing with other human beings and that can definitely be a struggle! Got a difficult boss? An obnoxious neighbor? A coworker who never shuts up? A teenager? People are hard. But people also give our lives meaning. It’s your relationships that add color and depth and joy to your life. Be willing to struggle. Face the messiness of communication and relationships and find the remedy for boredom, stagnation, and loneliness.
I’m not saying everything should be a struggle. Don’t thrash around all the time. That’s a great recipe for burnout. Do take care of yourself. Just like building muscle, you build a healthy life with a balance of struggle and recovery.
But struggle itself isn’t a sign that something is wrong. It’s a sign you’re alive, living a strong, healthy, growing, deep, meaningful life.