- make forceful or violent efforts to get free of restraint or constriction.
- strive to achieve or attain something in the face of difficulty or resistance.
- have difficulty handling or coping with.
- engage in conflict.
- make one’s way with difficulty.
Struggle doesn’t sound like fun. Maybe, it doesn’t even sound right — if you’re strugglin’, did you take a wrong turn somewhere, make a mistake, or overshoot your abilities? At best it sounds like something to be borne, and then quickly gotten past.
And while I consider myself very lucky and have never known true hardship, there were early days in my adulthood of struggling to make ends meets and then figuring out how to build a new life with my sister after my mother suddenly passed away. My sister Sarah and I also had to fix up our childhood home to move back there — water pipes and electrical outlets needed fixing, and new fences for a dog pen had to be built.
These times were not fun — hardly any of it. Back then, we dreamed of a unknown, rich uncle showing up out of the blue and whisking us away to live on his Frisian horse farm in Spain (he was a Gary Oldman/Sirius Black sort). We didn’t choose any of that struggle, and yes, we wished for it to be over. And yet, around the edges we still found bits of fun. I vividly remember digging post holes with Sarah for the dog pen while pretending to be characters from our favorite sci-fi shows (Earth 2 and SeaQuest DSV) and laughing our heads off. And that moment was important.
The other kind of struggle is the struggle you choose. Now, it beats the other one, hands down. But… it’s kind of like choosing to jump into a raging river to save someone’s life instead of being pushed in: you get the warm, fuzzy feeling of doing the right thing but that’s little comfort when your lungs are full of water and you’re thrashing around in the water. For me, this type of struggle has defined 2016.
Ahh, 2016. I just keep expecting it to turn a corner and get easier and yet I’m pushing against all barriers and really trying to reach a new reality with my dreams of health, fitness, having less stuff, and taking my writing career to the next level. It hasn’t been easy, really none of it, but the results are real and the progress is visible (and now I can say I’ve cycled 65 miles in a day).
But is it enough to just find tiny moments of joy and appreciate what we gain from struggle? Isn’t that kind of gratitude akin to ‘Mmm mmm, these Brussels sprouts really taste like they have a lot of vitamins!’ Whether chosen by us or chosen for us, this state of increased difficulty can last months or even years — shouldn’t our lives be full of joy and adventure even in the midst of challenge and change?
I just read ‘Peter Pan and Wendy‘ for the first time. One of the striking things was that Peter never really seemed to seek comfort and peace. Oh sure, he and the Lost Boys enjoyed coming home in the evenings and having Wendy mother them, but that was just so they could rest and renew for tomorrow’s adventure. And sometimes in a battle, if the tide turned and Peter’s forces were easily winning, he would switch sides and start fighting the Lost Boys just to up the challenge. Most of us can’t imagine asking for more of a struggle, but Peter gleefully embraced it, found it interesting, and even became bored if triumphs came to him too easily.
Back in the real world, how can we re-frame the struggle as adventure? Our struggles are as unique as our lives, and some of them may seem joyless and insurmountable. But whatever our challenges, we always have control over our minds and how we perceive ourselves —
How to See Your Struggle as the Greatest Adventure of Your Life
- Be grateful for the chance. Whatever you’re doing, where ever you’re going, someone somewhere wishes they were in your shoes. Whether you’re in debt, want to lose weight, working your way through school, or fighting cancer — somebody wishes they had that fight. A person hit and killed by a bus yesterday would love to have your today — it may not be easy but there’s a beautiful breeze whispering through even the hardest days.
- Know that you’re getting a chance to show off your badass-ery. The biggest fights show the hero off to their greatest advantage. In ‘The Princess Bride’ our hero Westley is dueling with a very accomplished sword fighter, Inigo Montoya. He’s been really challenged by their fight and THEN Inigo makes known a devastating secret — ‘I’m not really left-handed.’ Inigo switches to fighting with his dominant right hand and we wonder if our hero is doomed. Instead, Westley deftly switches his sword to his other hand too and reveals, ‘Neither am I.’ He’s as good as the best in the world. And so are you. People run from struggle. Most lives are carefully built around its absence, so just being willing to wake up every day and resubmit yourself to many punishing challenges qualifies you for a lot of kudos and admiration. That’s not saying everyone will notice but many more will than you realize (you may be inspiring your teacher, parent, or child without even knowing it). So remember, you’ve got the tools and you’re got the talent — and you’re handling on a daily basis what would scare the shit out of lesser mortals 😉
- Redefine what you’re looking for in life. Do you really just want that lee in the storm? A warm beach and a cold drink? When we’re tired, peace and relaxation sounds like the best things life has to offer. But again and again studies show that our greatest satisfaction and even happiness in this life comes from working toward goals that deeply matter to us. Life should have pleasures and we should enjoy them — but pleasure isn’t what makes life worth living. Get out of the mindset of desperately seeking easy street — that place where your job is perfect, your family life carefree, and to-do list done. Goals are very important to our satisfaction, but remember that John Lennon said, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’ This wild, turbulent time is exciting and full of possibility — enjoy the race more and look toward the finish line less. Because what you will remember later is always the race.
- Own your struggle. You chose to be here. Yes, you did. Because ‘here’ is the struggle and you could have just laid down, given up, or exited out. You decided to be here and you decided to fight for what you want. One of the most important things I ever learned about having a job was that I chose to have a job — no one coerced me do it; it was a decision I made to have money for the things I wanted. In the same way, you can get ahead of your challenges and at least feel like you’re choosing this life instead of having it forced upon you. Be proactive about taking care of the issues you can control (pay your bills on time if you can instead of adding late fees on top of your other money woes), develop a plan for going forward, and trust yourself to be able to handle any challenges that come your way. For myself, I know I can always quit fighting, and go live a life of fast food, reality TV, and mediocre achievements — but I chose to keep fighting: to create great art, to find my fans and embrace them, to get the body and live the life I want, and to never settle until I have the man of my dreams in my arms.
- Embrace uncertainty. A lot of the trouble with struggling is fear. We’re fighting for freedom or to make our way forward. We have hopes, goals, dreams, or even just the desire for a little peace and quiet. During the hardest times of moving into our old house after Mom’s death, I remember hanging a poster on wall of my bedroom by the artist SARK and thinking that that poster would still be there when things were much better, and so it connected me to a future I desperately wanted to come to pass — and it did. And then it passed by, and became the now. The point is, whether or not all our dreams come true, we’re still moving forward and everything will be all right, in the end. If we release our fears, then struggle looks a lot more like just acting out our deepest goals and desires in an exciting, unfamiliar place. We’re having a dashing adventure, sword fighting with pirates. Or we’re exploring lands no one has ever laid eyes on before. Or we’re risking it all in a ‘hail Mary’ shot that will either fail spectacularly or land us in the company of legends.
When my sister and I talk about ‘adventure’ movies versus ‘action’ movies, we often say how — No matter how hard, difficult, or dangerous the path is, there is nowhere in the world the adventurer would rather be, and there’s nothing they’d rather be doing. Because here is where your gumption’s tested, where heroes are made, great discoveries of knowledge, treasure, and secrets revealed, and you’re living the story that will be recounted joyously a hundred times around a hundred campfires when you’re safely back home. The adventure is where you are most alive, using all of your talents to escape traps and outwit enemies, in awe of your abilities and fortitude, and where — when you catch your reflection in a quiet moment, in a lull in the battle — you find yourself with the biggest grin on your face, shocked at your good fortune and strength, your trials and triumphs, and astounded at the recognition that this is the best moment of your life and that you were so blessed to be gifted with this struggle, for inside it, you found yourself.