The Importance of Struggle

I feel compelled to write a piece here today about the concept of struggle.  We all go through struggle in some form and in differing levels of intensity.  I see it all the time in my clinical practice in people with physical pain or disability.  I see it in people going through any of life’s many painful events such as divorce, deaths, or even final exams for that matter.  I myself am going through it right now. It does not matter about the subject of the struggle each of us go through because the core always remains the same.  In essence we find ourselves at a place in life or circumstance where we do not know how to help ourselves out of the position that we find ourselves.  Or perhaps we do know what we need to do but the steps to get there are just so very large.  It is important therefore to remember that struggle is simply just a mindset that offers us options.  I could go down the road to the left or I could perhaps choose the road to the right.  Each path will have its own pitfalls and rewards.  And for certain each one will have many things to appreciate and observe along the way.  But which one is the right one?  Well, unfortunately that is the rub for a person in struggle.  Decisions are rarely ever easy.  So struggle we must.  If the subject matter is important enough struggle is inherent. 

I feel that it is all too easy to assign negative emotion to the concept of struggling.  Sadness and despair are commonly associated with this experience.  It is of course one thing to struggle physically while on a two hour hike up a nearby mountain.  But it is another thing altogether to struggle physically with the pain and disability of getting up to go to the bathroom which has both physical and emotional implications!  A person might struggle over a break-up or they may struggle with moving on after the death of a loved one.  They are all significant in their own way.  But what if we can change our thinking to accept the struggle and appreciate that this is a necessary part of life?  For without struggle and the stresses we endure we might end up weak and without substance.  Indeed when we are offered a challenge that we think we cannot complete we are offered a choice.  Give up and refuse the challenge which always leads to failure.  Or take the challenge head on.  Risk failure yet move toward success, empowerment, happiness, or whatever you are struggling over.  Either way we are stronger because of it.  We cannot measure success only by the act of reaching the top of the mountain.  Or finishing the race.  Or making it to the bathroom by yourself.  Those are all wonderful of course.  But by accepting the reality of the situation, appreciating the incredible odds against you, and trying your best to achieve your goal, you have done more for yourself than you might not immediately comprehend.  By facing struggle from a perspective of curiosity, determination and empowerment you are taking the steps necessary to face your fears with an open heart and by consequence you become stronger and life quickly has more meaning.  So there is always a gift hidden within struggle.  The right answers will show themselves in time.  To avoid or submit to struggle means missing the most precious gift of all.  All too often we tend to forget this and take the easy road only to be left with a feeling of worthlessness and despair.  Or we may feel anger or depression.  This of course does little for us in the end aside from promoting more failures, less self-empowerment and less healing.

As a final thought I also want to impress upon you that struggle is a very personal experience.  Those of us standing outside may have the need to try and help our loved ones out of their pain or their struggle.  And of course we should, but the way in which we do this is extremely important.  If we swoop in and try and take the pain away, or take the burden on ourselves we have done that person a huge disservice.  Your help may have solved that immediate problem for them but what have you done for them in the end?  Does this mean I wish you to neglect your fellow person?  No, I suggest that you appreciate their struggle, love that person totally, help lightly and stand with a supportive presence that they can look to for encouragement or guidance along their path.  We all need to know that we have the power to pull up our own bootstraps, heal ourselves and help ourselves thrive.  Yes we can seek the assistance of others along our path, but we cannot allow others to take our burden for us.  I think of this in the same way as asking for someone in the gym to lift my weights for me.  Or completing a marathon while being pushed in a stroller.  Where is the empowerment?  How does avoiding struggle make us stronger?

So no matter what you are struggling with currently.  And you are struggling with something.  I ask you to really look hard at what that thing really is.  What do you really think about it?  What might you be telling yourself about it that might not be true?  What types of stories are you telling yourself and others that work to cloud or protect you from needing to face the core of the struggle?  I feel that if you really ask yourself these questions with an open heart the answers will surely come.  You will all of the sudden have a path laid out for you that was there all along yet you just could not see it. You will have more choices.  You will have gifted yourself with increased empowerment and control over your life. And you will quite possibly be able to help yourself out of your struggles and emerge a totally different person in the end.