The Struggle of Life
“Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.” — Walter Anderson
Does it seem like your life is one endless drama after another? Are you constantly wishing your problems would dissolve into nothing? You know the feeling you get while on vacation, without a care in the world? It is as though time stands still and all your concerns vanish for that brief period. I’ve spoken with many people over the years who promised their life would be different once they returned from holiday. They vowed to create more time to unwind and not take life seriously. Despite their best intentions, the speed of life overshadows their plans and before long they are back to the same old routine.
So how can you avoid the pain of defeat and struggle? I was discussing this topic with a friend recently who was lamenting his recent troubles. He mentioned something during the conversation that etched itself into my mind. Given his financial struggles, he wanted to leave his meaningless job and pursue a calling he was passionate about. He wanted to pursue work that offered him personal satisfaction above all else. He wished for a better life without the constant struggle. However, if success were to find its way to him, he was powerless to appreciate it, since he was used to being anxious about money for his entire adult life. He was a victim to his pain, and living a purposeful life was an elusive dream. Have you been in a similar situation?
Pain or Pleasure?
“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.” — Anne Lamott
Reclaiming your life is not about a change in circumstances, as much as it is about shifting your internal focus. It must come from a deep desire to transform your life, irrespective of what awaits you on the other side. The Freudian principle, known as the pain—pleasure principle, states that humans have an inner drive toward seeking pleasure, or running away from pain. You attract opportunities that serve your highest potential or you get stuck in a painful cycle of undesired outcomes. The downfall of the pain cycle is apparent in mice being administered electric shocks in lab experiments. It is reported over time; they become desensitised to the pain of the shock and learn to exist within that context.
To reclaim your life, begin by being mindful of your thoughts and actions, for you alone direct the course of your destiny, not some outside force. I’m reminded of the quote by the late American speaker Jim Rohn who said: “The same wind blows on us all; the winds of disaster, opportunity and change. Therefore, it is not the blowing of the wind, but the setting of the sails that will determine our direction in life.”
In a similar way, success and leadership experts speak of reframing failure as the key to achieving success. I recall early in my career the devastating effect failure had on my character. However, with several failures under my belt, I let go of attaching failure to my self-worth. In fact, the moment I stopped considering it a negative outcome, it had little power over me. Therefore, it is important to view failure as an opportunity to advance towards your goals. It helps you improve and iterate each time you are unsuccessful. Apple and many other leading companies have known this for decades and use it to improve their product designs and services, and so should you.
Similarly, avoid attaching failure to your self-esteem, since it will derail your progress. Instead, transform your frustrations and fears into passion and enthusiasm. Enthusiastic people enjoy their life’s journey and seldom focus on outcomes alone. If you love what you do and do what you love, the journey can be more rewarding than the outcome. This is why we ought to pursue interests that resonate with your deepest self. Everything else becomes insignificant when you know what is important to you. For example, most people focus on trivial matters and neglect the bigger picture. They believe by trying their hand at many things, this strategy will return a favourable outcome. I liken it to painting a masterpiece by throwing paint at a canvas, expecting it to materialise as a Rembrandt.
Most importantly, don’t let life pass you by, but be in command of your choices. Whilst you have little control over outcomes, you have the power in how you respond to them. Reclaiming your life begins by being at peace with yourself, instead of believing you have been hard done by. It involves collaborating with life’s circumstances, knowing even the direst conditions contain the seeds of opportunity for personal growth. Author Brené Brown refers to it as avoiding the powerless trap: “…we are most dangerous to ourselves and to the people around us when we feel powerless. Powerlessness leads to fear and desperation.” After all, it is by acknowledging you are powerful beyond measure, as Marianne Williamson states, that your inner and outer worlds converge to create a state of eternal harmony.