“There is scarcely any passion without struggle.”
– Albert Camus
Struggle has a bad rap. If asked, most of us would likely opt against struggle, preferring to avoid it if we can.
Yet, at the same time, we can’t seem to escape it. Struggle is everywhere. Unavoidable.
Many of us are familiar with struggle as a part of our lives. We understand that anything worth having requires a level of hard work and consistency. Much more, it’s reinforced through our parents, authority figures and general society.
We’re told to work hard and put our nose to the grindstone. 52% of us are dissatisfied with our jobs yet we still stay in them. When something takes longer or more work than we expect, we’re told it’s part of the game and that dues need to be paid.
But for what? Is it worth it?
For some of us, our relationship with struggle is backwards. We begin with the belief that struggle is inherent, which for the most part is true. Struggle is a part of life; it is the set before the rise.
Yet we miss the passion and joy—the rise—that really should come first, that should inspire the willingness to embrace the struggle as simply part of the process of living a meaningful life.
Mr. Mason asked a good question in his article, which I’d rephrase to be this:
What do you choose to struggle for?
This might be the most important question in your life. The answer to this question is significant; it shouldn’t be taken lightly, for granted, or with indifference.
The answer to this question is an important determinant of whether you’re living the life you really want—one that you’ve consciously chosen for yourself. It’s a great indicator of your satisfaction and sense of progress in life.
There are pros and cons, and costs and benefits to everything. If you want a clean and uncluttered house, you’ll need to clean the dishes and put your belongings away. If you want to be fit, you’ll need to pay attention to what you’re putting in and how you’re conditioning your body. If you want to make a positive impact in the lives of neglected animals, there will be times when you deal with aggressive behavior, waste and debris.
What’s important to realize is this: whatever it is that’s meaningful to you, it’s guaranteed to be even more of a struggle than other things.
Because whatever’s easy is easily taken for granted.
If something is effortless, it wouldn’t be worth much talk, thought or time. You’d simply complete the task or project and be done with it. You’d move on to the next thing.
This is why many people find areas of meaning for them to be around overcoming a weakness, achieving a big dream or a working on a difficult endeavor or challenge. Once at a satisfactory level or complete, the what’s meaningful moves to another area.
My guess is most people don’t think as carefully and as regularly as they should on this question. It’s something that ought to be revisited every so often rather than a one-time decision, although there are some cases where that could happen.
We are evolving beings, meaning our interests and personas change throughout the years. A choice may feel exciting for a period of time and eventually fizzle out. A career takes off and progresses until it stops at a certain level. What you’ve been doing may feel rewarding and just fine, until a couple or decades of years later.
It really all depends. But there are changes and clues—what I call sparks—along our journey that if we simply listened or paid attention, we’d only struggle for what we believed to be worthwhile instead of sliding into eventual meaninglessness.
The spark could be a conversation with someone that makes you reconsider the direction you’re going. It could be a flyer that you’ve passed by a few times but never noticed until now.
Sparks can be positive, negative or relatively neutral.
Sparks help guide the way to what is the next meaningful transition in your life. Sparks help you determine the “what” that you’re willing to struggle for. If we don’t listen to these inklings, we may pay a price for our inaction later.
Not until later on in life perhaps. Perhaps not until the children leave the nest. Or until a health scare happens. Or when career progression stagnates… a promotion doesn’t happen, or when you finally acknowledge that you’re no longer interested in whatever it is you’ve been doing for a while.
Sparks are important clues.
Sparks tend to get bigger and more urgent the longer you don’t pay attention. Listen to them.
Several years ago, the most meaningful area for me was learning how to improve my internal dialogue with myself and increase my self-confidence. I’d known this was crucial, especially in the toxic work environment I was in—but refused to admit I needed help for a while. Things got progressively worse internally until the day I reached my limit; it was so embarrassing. I’d broken down and sobbed—heaving and barely able to breathe—in front of my then (the worst I’ve ever worked for) manager in complete despair. That was the big spark spurring me into action after months of ignoring the smaller ones.
For me, the mental clutter and resistance to change were (and in some ways, continue to be) major struggles. As I look forward, what’s meaningful to me now is constantly challenging what I believe to be possible and playing bigger.
Often our weaknesses or failings—when embraced and utilized—become our greatest asset and strength.
It becomes a way we can uniquely contribute to the world, by sharing with others who might benefit from our struggle. It’s a way we can inspire others to reach for their dreams in spite of drawbacks, handicaps (whether perceived, physical or external) and challenges.
We draw meaning from suffering if we align ourselves with something we are willing, even happy to, struggle with. It’s what balances and teaches us about happiness, accomplishment, progress and joy. Struggle is a part of life and the beauty of the process.
So, what is it that you choose to struggle for? What is it that’s meaningful to you right now? If you’d be willing to share, shoot me an email or leave a comment.