When the Going Gets Tough

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  This is a saying I have heard throughout my life.  This is a true statement for some, but for others their hardships may be too much to overcome.  I have often wondered why some people just fall apart when the going gets tough, but others continue to move forward, continue to thrive regardless of the adversity.


To understand what I am getting at, consider these three very different people. Nelson Mandela who was jailed over his beliefs and color for 27 years became the first democratically elected president in South Africa.  With all regards, Abraham Lincoln was considered a failure.  His business was a failure, he suffered a nervous breakdown, and was defeated in eight different elections before becoming our sixteenth president. Charles Manson who was in trouble throughout his childhood and teenage years was the son of a teenage alcoholic prostitute and a father he never knew.  The stories of these people present good examples of the directions a life can take when the going gets tough.

I like to say, “When the going gets tough you have two choices.  You can step up, or you can step back.”  The direction of your step will make all the difference in your life.  In my life, I have dealt with hardship and failure, but life continues to march on.  I have been shot at, burned in a chemical plant explosion, and have failed miserably in several business endeavors.  The difference is I refuse to take a step back, I only step forward.  Through it all, I have learned that for me the only option is to continue moving forward.  Once you take a step back, it becomes twice as hard to just get back to where you originally started.

Climbing Mt. Elbert confirmed to me the idea of “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  I found three types of people at the mountain; the parking lot dwellers, the tree liners and the climbers.  The parking lot dwellers are the people unwilling to step out of their comfort zone.  They are the ones who believe stepping out of their comfort zone is just too tough, too hard to do and at all cost will avoid anything that appears to be tough.  They stay in the parking lot.  The tree liners are the ones willing to step out of their comfort zone but are not willing to take on the tough work.  Tree liners are the ones who will hike up to the tree line and look for any excuse to stop there.  They look up at the mountain summit and believe hiking any further towards the summit will be just too tough.  They are unwilling to take on the hard, tough, part of the climb.  The tree line is good enough for them.  The climbers are the ones willing to continue moving forward towards the summit regardless of the obstacles the trail presents along the way.  These are the ones who when the going gets tough, they get going.

We can all expect life to provide unexpected events along the way. My son and I had no idea life would challenge our climb with bad weather, high winds or an injured knee.  It would have been easy to have stayed in the parking lot right from the start, but we wanted to conquer the climb.  It would have been easy to stop at the tree line when the weather hit us with rain, hail and snow, but we kept moving forward.  As we moved up the trail and the going got very tough for me with a hurt knee, I could have easily said I have had enough, but we kept moving forward.  It would have been easy as we approached the false summit to say the winds are too strong to continue, but we kept moving forward.

My point is, you need to learn how to push past whatever barriers stand in your way.  Don’t settle for the easy way out.  Learn to fight for what you want in your life.  Learn to step out of parking lot, move past the tree line and conquer your mountain.

Here’s how:

  • Know that whatever your struggle is, it gets better.  People have told me that’s wishful thinking.  I have found it to be a true guarantee.  When I have been at my lowest, toughest points in my life it has always gotten better.  No matter how hard the fight is, always keep your sights set on a brighter future.  We all have the gift to overcome anything if we keep pushing forward instead of giving up.
  • Forget about luck. You control your own destiny.  Luck has nothing to do with it.  All the unexpected events that come your way is not “bad luck”, it’s life.  Regardless of what is happening in your life, you have the power to change it.  It may take days, weeks, months or years but for sure the one thing it will not take, is luck.
  • Life’s scars reflect your strength.  I don’t know anyone who hasn’t experienced hurt, pain or regret in their life.  When you can learn from these experiences, your life changes.  You will no longer struggle to enjoy what life has to offer.  My grandmother used to tell me “everything that happens to you makes you stronger.”  Remembering this when the going gets tough makes it much easier to get through the tough times life sends your way.
  • You’re not alone. When the going gets tough, it might seem like you are all alone.  You may feel isolated as you deal with your grief, struggles or hardships.  The important thing to remember is that no matter what you are going through there will be others going through the same thing or worse.  Take comfort in knowing that there are others possibly going through the same thing and use this knowledge to reach out to people around you.
  • Share your story. Sharing my stories has been the one thing that has helped me the most.  When I share my stories with others I learn from the experience.  I have learned that there are others struggling just like me, I have learned that there are others struggling far worse than me, and I have learned that sharing my stories has helped others overcome struggles they are dealing with.
  •  We all can make choices.  The most important thing I have learned about dealing with tough situations is that we have a choice.  We can deal with the struggle head on, or we can do nothing and let the struggle own us.  It’s a choice.  You can be facing the most difficult thing you have ever had to face; the outcome depends on the choices you make on how to deal with it.

When the going gets tough, do you get going?  It’s a choice each of us will have to make sometime during our lives.  My choice will always be to step forward.