Five Qualities You Gain From Struggle

struggle

When I checked my Twitter feed the other day, I saw that something called the “Barkley Marathon” was trending.

I was instantly curious. After all, I’d never heard of this particular run (even though I’m a runner) and there didn’t seem to be any terrorist activity associated with the race (thank goodness). So why was this obscure race dominating Twitter that on that day?

I had to find out.

One of the Tweets linked to an article that briefly described the race. The second sentence? “Only 15 runners have finished the race in its 32-year history.”

Wow. It was immediately obvious that this race was something special.

It turns out that “marathon” is a misnomer. Because this race is more than one hundred miles – that’s basically four marathons. And it has to be completed in under 60 consecutive hours.

But that’s not all. Just to add to the “fun,” this run is completed on an unmarked, unlit course without any aide stations or lighting (with only 60 hours to complete the course, they have to run through the night). And it’s not just the one hundred miles of horizontal distance these runners have to contend with, they also have to deal with a total of over eleven miles of elevation change over the entirety of the course!

And yet, people still sign up.

So of course, I had to watch the documentary about the race later that evening. I was captivated (and supremely humbled). One of my favorite moments came in a brief clip of an interview with one of the runners –

“I think we all could do with a little more pain in our lives,” he stated after describing what led him to ultra marathons.

And I think in many ways, he’s right.

Not that we should all sign up to run for two-and-a-half days through the untamed Tennessee wilderness, but that we all have capabilities and reserves that are left untapped. That we all are capable of so much more than we believe.

And that we all can gain from struggle.

 

Because when you struggle, you gain…

 

Confidence

The only way to build your belief in yourself is to take on challenges where there is a very real chance of failure. Your confidence soars  you face something that you fear and you somehow manage to summon the bravery needed to take that leap of faith. It matters less how well you do against the struggle; the self-assurance comes from meeting  it head-on.

 

Appreciation

One of the more frustrating parts of teaching suburban middle schoolers is that they rarely understand how good they have it. It’s not their fault – they haven’t seen how bad it can be, so they haven’t gained an appreciation for what they have. There’s a reason that the first sip of a cold beverage is more satisfying after hard labor. When we have to slog through the hard times, we become grateful for even the smallest things.

 

Perspective

We have a tendency to set up residence within our own heads. We often lose sight of what really matters and become fixated on the never-ending (and often frustrating) details of daily life. During times of crisis, we drop those details out of necessity and we often elect to leave some of them behind once we realize that they are not as important as we once believed.

 

Peace

When things are too easy, our brains have a tendency to invent things for us to worry about. For many of us, we worry more about what might happen than what actually is happening. Once we’re in the thick of it, the only option is to focus the efforts on getting through. Struggle acts to prune the mind of superfluous concern as we enter a state of focused intention.

 

Joy

It seems counterintuitive that struggle can make us happy. After all, in the midst of the pain and effort, we are often miserable and dispirited. Yet those very times that almost destroy us are the very ones that allow us to find and recognize life’s greatest delights. In struggle, we learn to believe in ourselves and to put our trust in others. Boundaries are bulldozed and bonds are built. We smile when we’re happy and we smile even more when we’ve fought mightily for that happiness.

 

One of my 6th grade students already understand the value of struggle. On a recent survey about accelerated math, she wrote the following:

“The challenge, risks and excitement I get in this class is what makes me want to go to school. The satisfaction I get from doing something right in math is one I want to keep forever. Sure, I don’t always get the BEST grades in math, but that doesn’t discourage me. You’re supposed to get confused, frustrated and struggle because that’s what math is all about. I feel as though this class is preparing me for the obstacles I’ll face later on throughout the years.”

 

Embrace the struggle.

 

Struggle is both life’s training ground and its proving ground.

Challenges teach us and they put us to the test.

Hard times shape us and reveal who we are.

So embrace the struggle. It will make you better.

Even if you never run a Barkley.

 

 

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Does Time Heal All Wounds?

When people contact me early in their divorce experience, the edges still rough and the emotions raw, I often find myself saying, “It’s early still. Give it some time.” It’s counsel I hate to give because it suggests that the pain has to be endured before it can be erased. Yet it’s also truth; there are some parts of healing that can only be addressed through the passage of time.

Time is a critical component of healing from loss. Yet it is no panacea, containing all of the answers.

What time does…

Time Softens I like to think of time as flowing like a river. When you first experience loss, it is a rough and jagged stone, thrust suddenly into the stream. At first, the river is diverted, pausing as it navigates this alien and unwanted intruder. In time, the river wears away at the rock, softening its edges and incorporating it into its topography. The loss is still there, but the serrated edges that sawed through your heart are worn into a blunt edge that provides a constant, yet bearable, pressure.

Time Muddies Memories At first, memories come in great waves, slamming into your gut without notice and stealing your breath away. The images play across your brain in high definition and the current reality pushes in with its ugly disparity. As the calendar advances, these memories lose some of their clarity, the details fading like linen left in the sun.

Time Permits Acclimation When you first experience loss, it’s like the gaping hole left behind by a missing tooth. It demands your attention. You worry at it. Obsess about it. Over a period of weeks and months, the shock and novelty fade. The need to talk about your situation will become less pressing and your mind will begin to make space for other things again.

Time Provides Experience The first time through any difficult experience is always the hardest, as the coping mechanisms and strategies have yet to be developed and you are not sure what to expect. Time gives you ample opportunity to practice breaking down and making it through. Each time you feel the pain, you get a little better at being with it and moving through it.

Time Allows For Opportunity Time supplies you with opportunities to implement the modalities that help with healing – counseling, journaling, mindfulness, movement. All of those strategies require time and repetition in order to be effective. Time also allows for new experiences, reminders that even though you’ve experienced loss, you’re still living and there are smiles to be found amongst the tears. Those moments of respite give you hope that things can be better.

 

What time does not…

Time Doesn’t Mean You Forget You will never forget. Time does not erase all memories, delete all pain. It’s still there, but there is also space for you to live alongside of it.

Provide Automatic Processing Time doesn’t do the healing. You do. If all you do is wait, you’ll feel much the same, only with more wrinkles. Time simply gives you the space and opportunity to work through it.

Time Doesn’t Provide Understanding Time won’t answer the “why” question for you. It won’t reveal why life is harder for some of us than others and why bad things can happen to good people. What time does give you is some perspective that suggests that maybe understanding why isn’t really that important.

 

Time may not heal all wounds, but it helps to cushion you from the emotional wound, becoming a sort of insulating layer. And with that distance, you have to space to breathe, to process and to live again.

 

 

The Mistake You May Be Making With Your Divorce Pain

“Why am I still hurting so badly?” the email implores of me, the writer speaking of her ten-year-old divorce.

As I read her message that details her divorce and her continued and prolonged sadness, I found myself thinking about how the modern western world handles death.

Before the rise of the modern medical and funeral industries, death was truly a family affair. Most people died at home, where there bodies were then washed and dressed by their loved ones. This intimate experience provided an opportunity for the survivors to come to terms with the loss and to grieve together. Denial or avoidance of the reality was simply not an option; there was too much to do.

Death has now become sanitized. Distanced. We have the ability to turn away when it becomes too much. We can keep the discomfort at arm’s length while we fill our minds with no shortage of distractions. By avoiding the grief, we prolong the grief.

And we’ve gotten quite adept at avoiding pain.

Not only when it comes to death, but also when it comes to divorce.

At first, it seems ideal to try to give the pain a wide berth. After all, we’re often advised, “If it hurts, don’t do it.” But sometimes that detour around the discomfort is an endless path and the only way out is through the thick of the heartbreak. Here, let me guide you. 

 

A Moment Worth Noting

Pay special attention to that moment when pain transforms into intense feeling.

It’s easy to miss.

We become so accustomed, so habituated, to pain that we often begin to assume that we’re still in pain.

Wincing before the pain is felt.

Labeling the sensation without any analysis of the feeling.

Continuing to favor the sore spot even when it is no longer so sensitive.

Just because the pain was present yesterday, don’t assume that it will be there today. Be open. Curious.

And aware of that moment when the pain is no longer pain and has instead become simply intense feeling.

 

Are You Tired of Hearing, “It Will Be Okay”?

“It will be okay” is sometimes a platitude, uttered in ignorance by people who have not ever tried on your shoes, much less walked in them. And that pat phrase, along with its twin, “You’re never given more than you can handle,” can spark ire in the one who is in the midst of the very-much-not-okay and there-is-no-way-I’ll-be-able-to-handle-this. It those cases, “It will be okay” feels dismissive, empty, hollow. A brush off followed by a watering down.

But those speaking in ignorance aren’t the only ones to share that phrase. Others come from a place of experience. They’ve been on the floor amongst the ruins of their life. They’ve lost everything and felt that overwhelming ache of the unfilled void. As they listen to your cries, they are transportated back to their own fresh pain (when nothing ever felt like it would be okay again) and they contrast it with where they are today (okay or even better).

And when they tell you, “It will be okay,” they’re speaking from experience. Not ignorance.

Sometimes we think of “okay” as “the same as it was.” And that will obviously never happen. In my mind, “okay” means adaptation to the change, accepting what is and building upon that base. “Okay” doesn’t mean that there isn’t loss, that there isn’t pain. It means that the loss is no longer all-consuming and the pain is no longer your identity. “Okay” doesn’t undo what was done, it doesn’t erase the past. “Okay” is a place of hope, a whisper that tells you one more breath, one more step. “Okay” means that the way you feel right now is not the way you will always feel because everything changes, even pain. “Okay” says that no matter what has happened, you can still find happiness and peace.

Everything really will be okay.