Do you want your life to be easy? Do you complain, get stressed out, or upset when challenges come up in your life? Today I want to talk about why we should not only accept adversity in our lives, but learn to embrace it.
The path of least resistance is a terrible teacher.
— Ryan Holiday
One of the things that I notice all the time are ads on Facebook promising some easy hack to get more clients, make more sales, lose weight faster, etc. It seems as if everything can be reduced to some kind of easy hack to be successful. And I’ll admit that I have fallen for some these. I’ve purchased a program that is supposed to teach me the “easy way” to one thing or another, only to find that there usually is no easy being successful at something.
So why do we look for the easy way? Why are we often taken in by promises of easy success? I think it’s pretty obvious because working hard at something is, well, hard. But I want to posit a few ideas on this. While we think it would great to have easy success with something, do we lose something if we have easy success? I want you to consider the idea that if we have an easy success at something, we may be cheating ourselves of some of the most important skills we need.
Think of it this way: Who are we more impressed by? The person that was simply given everything in their life? The ones got their jobs or were admitted into schools, not because of their own merit, but because of their family connections or wealth? Or are we more impressed by those who came up against incredible obstacles and persevered? Which story is going to make a movie that we’d actually want to watch?
One should never wish for life to be easy. It is through adversity that we strengthen our skills, test our mettle, and know what we are capable of.
— Erick Cloward
I’ve often talked about how I love cycling, and for several years, I was obsessed with it. I would ride at least 3 times a week logging around 150-200 miles a week. I found pleasure in tackling the big hills around my home. It wasn’t just that I knew that I would be stronger because of the work I was putting in, it was because I really enjoyed climbing those hills, I loved the feeling of the burn in my legs and feeling my strength as I pushed myself to the summit.
Over the years I’ve come up with excuses as to why I don’t ride like that anymore, but I think it’s really that I convinced myself that it was just too hard do anymore. I’ve felt discouraged that I let myself go, and I know the amount of work it will take to get to that level again. But in doing all that, I forgot the simple idea that I don’t have to be that good again. I just have to remember to love the process, to enjoy the ride, and to savor the burn. If I put the miles in, while I may not ever reach that level again, I’ll certainly improve over where I am now, and certainly improve my health.
The Spartan story of Leonidas and the Battle of Thermopylae is considered one of the greatest military conflicts in history. Xerxes, the King of Persia and an estimated 180,000 soldiers were held at bay for several days by a significantly smaller Greek army led by Leonidas, one of the kings of Sparta. While they eventually lost due to betrayal from a Spartan traitor, the fighting force of 7000, lead by 300 of Sparta’s elite ranks, they managed to keep the Persians at bay until the rest of the Greek army could assemble, and eventually defeat the Persian forces. Over seven days of battle, the Spartans lost 4000 soldiers but inflicted a loss of 20,000 on the Persians.
There are many reason why this story resonates with us even today. First and foremost is that King Leonidas knew that he was most likely marching to his death. He also knew that in doing so, it was the best chance to buy time for the rest of Greece to mount a defense against the Persians. Second, is that these soldiers had trained long and hard for most of their lives so that when the time came, they would be ready to face their enemies and fight ferociously. They didn’t wish for their lives to be easy, but challenged themselves to become the best of the best. Training amongst the Spartans was considered to be some of the most difficult, which is why the Spartans where extremely successful in their military campaigns.
The willingness of these warriors to push themselves to become the best they could be are part of the reason that we have stoicism and democracy. If the Persians had conquered Greece at that time, its fledgling democratic and philosophical traditions may not have survived.
Good judgment comes from experience. Most experience comes from bad judgment.
A man cannot understand the art he is studying if he only looks for the end result without taking the time to delve deeply into the reasoning of the study.
— Miyamoto Musashi
When we take on challenges and learn to love the hard parts, we also build the skills that we need to sustain what we’re doing. Think about it this way: What if your goal in life was to become the CEO of a successful tech company like Apple? What would happen if tomorrow you were suddenly given that role? Would you be able to sustain it? Would you have the skills to run a company of that size? Would you have the experience needed to make good judgments about how to run such a company? Unless you had put in the time, you wouldn’t be successful, nor would you be able to ensure the long term success of the company.
If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.
– Marcus Aurelius
So what can we do to get better at embracing the hard parts of life? How can we change our mindset to love the burn?
First and foremost is our perspective. If we look at the hard parts as something that is bad or to be avoided, then we’ll never look forward to them, which also makes it more likely that we won’t push through when things are boring, hard, or painful.
Pain and Pleasure
One of the most interesting things about the human mind is that many of the same sensations that we have are considered god or bad based upon our perspective. For example, nervousness and excitement have the same physiological symptoms, yet we consider nervousness to be bad and excitement to be good. In the kink communities, there are plenty of people that find great pleasure in being flogged. Many people enjoy roller coasters or horror movies in which they feel fear and excitement at the same time.
Using these examples, are there hard things that you normally avoid that you could find the pleasure in? Rather than simply tolerating them, can you find ways to love them? If you’ve ever seen a hard core body builder at the gym, you will often see them push themselves to where they feel immense burning in their muscles and yet have the biggest grins on their faces as they push through that pain.
Another way to look at things is to see if you can find pleasure in mastering the boring or basic things. For example, if you are learning how to program a computer, rather than just racing through the practice code, can you take time to see if you can make the code more efficient or elegant? If you’re working on becoming a writer, can you find a clearer or more interesting way to express an idea?
It may seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first.
— Miyamoto Musashi.
Patience and Process
Another thing that trips us up is that we are often impatient. We want success and we want it now. Many of us will spend so much time trying to find shortcuts, that it would have been faster for us to have simply taken the necessary steps in the first place. We can help override this by finding ways to enjoy the journey, to love the process. We can get so focused on the end goal that we miss the scenery and experiences along the way.
Recognize that it’s the journey that will turn you into the person that you will be when you get to the end goal. Recognize that you’re going to suck at whatever it is you want to get better at. Be okay with sucking at something, and enjoy watching yourself go from sucking at something to getting better at it.
So what are you working towards right now in your life that is hard for you? Is there something in it that scares you? Are there things you’re trying to avoid that you know you need to do to get where you want to go? Can you change your perspective to find the pleasure and the excitement in it? The more you can embrace and love the sucky parts, the more you’ll look forward to the challenges, and the more you’ll learn to love the burn.
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