Why would anyone in their right mind be willing to embrace hardship? Recent studies show, we experience more positive things in our lives than negative ones. Yet, we tend to fall into the trap of petty concerns and annoyances in our lives. We tend to play the victim card. As a result, our stress levels go up and we are unhappy. The question becomes how do we overcome falling prey to negativity instead of capitalizing on all the positive things in our lives?
By embracing hardships, we change the outcome. Stop resisting the challenges that come your way; you might be able to change them, you will never eliminate them, so stop resisting them. People who appear to have everything are often affection starved, living isolated lives and experience little joy. Yet, people who experience the most joy tend to experience the greatest pain. After an event I spoke at, a young woman approached me. She told me, “Even though you have experienced much hardship and pain, know that because of it you are the one that can best help others heal who have gone through the same things.” Her statement knocked me back, having to ask her, “How can what I went through help others?” She replied, “Your story shows others that by embracing your challenges rather than resisting them, you can overcome them.” I think about what she said almost every day and it reminds me to stay positive. We can choose to let negative things bring us down or we can choose to embrace them which enables us to rise above the negativity.
An important lesson I have learned over my life’s journey is that challenge and hardship present incredible opportunities for learning. Have you ever noticed that it’s often when we lose what we have is when we start to appreciate whatever we lost the most? When we are sick, we appreciate our health. We appreciate family and friends when we miss them because they are away. Last year after Hurricane Irma hit, I appreciated clean running water, electricity that worked and passable paved roads. You don’t realize how these simple things impact your life until they are gone. But, when you think differently about these situations you realize they bring the greatest opportunities for kindness and learning.
Evacuating our home of thirty years was hard for my wife and me. Where do we go? What do we bring? Will there be anything left when we come back? Will we be able to buy gas, food and find a place to stay? We could have resisted the challenges Hurricane Irma presented but, instead we embraced the fact we had to evacuate. As a result, we met new people, drove on roads we had never been on before, learned to conserve and make due. We had to think outside the norm. We met many kind people genuinely concerned about our wellbeing. We experienced extreme generosity, and we took the opportunity to visit places we had never been to. Instead of focusing on the notion that we could lose everything in a storm, we focused on if we must evacuate where we can go that we have never been. When we returned, we had no water, no electricity and needed a new roof along with other repairs. We did not focus on the lack of utilities or our home’s damage. Rather, we were thankful that our home and neighbors were still here.
Think about the athlete who trains to reach a goal. The athlete puts his body through countless hours of training day in and day out. The athlete is committed to the goal which motivates him to endure the pain and hardships. Many athletes have told me that when they stopped focusing on what it would take to reach the goal and instead focused on the goal itself, it made all the difference. C. S. Lewis stated, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny…” Unfortunately, many of us become slaves to ‘easy street’. If we don’t have our technology, our easy chair and a cold drink we believe it’s a hardship. The truth is, most of us have no idea what a true hardship is. We don’t know what it’s like to be cold in the winter, have nothing to eat, or no clean water to drink. We are only as strong as the dangers and hardships we have had to overcome.
In Victor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Frankl shares the lessons he learned while a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. The most important lesson he shares talks about while we cannot avoid pain and suffering, we can choose how we deal with it. In the book, he talks about how instead of focusing on how little bread and water he would receive or how hard he was worked by the Nazis, he would focus on the fact that he was getting food and was getting out of the prison barracks which allowed him to feel the breeze on his face. He found meaning in the most difficult of hardships.
We have all experienced hardships, pain and setbacks. Every success story I know, is a story that has hardship, pain and setbacks. No one I know who has become successful has done so without facing and overcoming difficult odds and many times at a tremendous cost. We all have unique lives and inspiring stories of turning hardships into opportunities that can help others. Only through sheer determination can we embrace our hardships in a way that can inspire and impact others.Be the difference, that makes a difference. Know that every hardship, pain or setback has the potential of being a blessing in disguise. I regret nothing in my life. I look back knowing that the hardships, pain and setbacks are what made me who I am today.
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