All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.
— Helen Keller
Character and wisdom are both sculpted over time. These qualities come with loss, lessons, and triumphs. They come after doubts, second guesses, and exploring unknowns. If there was a definitive path to personal growth, everyone would be on it.
Truth be told, the seeds of your progress are often planted in your past failures. Some of your best stories will likely come from overcoming your greatest struggles. And your praises will be birthed from your growing pains.
Marc and I learned some of this the hard way. Over the past fifteen years we have dealt with several significant hardships, including the sudden death of a sibling, the loss of a best friend to illness, betrayal from a business partner, an unexpected breadwinning employment layoff, and more. These experiences were brutal. Each of them knocked us down and kept us down for a while. But when our time of mourning was over after each tragedy, we pressed forward, stronger, and with a greater understanding and respect for life.
So my challenge to you today is this: Start looking at life’s harsh realities and challenges as paths that ultimately lead to your growth. It’s about making the best of the path you’re currently on, even if it’s not the path you expected or wanted to be on. Easier said than done sometimes, of course, but here are a few key points to consider:
1. The first steps forward are never easy.
The beginnings to good things are always the hardest, but it’s these hard steps that often pave the way to better times. Be strong and keep the faith; it will be worth it in the end. The greatest miracle of your success from this point forward will not be that you finished, it will be that you found the strength and courage to begin, again and again.
And remember, it’s not that those who are strong never get weak in the knees, or that they never hold their breath before they embark, it’s that while their knees are shaking they force themselves to breathe and take the next tiniest step.
2. Progress rarely comes quick and easy.
Life is not easy. And progress usually comes gradually, not all at once. You must align your daily efforts with your near-term goals and then start every day ready to walk a little farther than you did yesterday, and perhaps fight a little harder than you ever have before.
The bottom line is that persistence is the single most common characteristic of high achievers in all walks of life. They simply refuse to give up on the things that matter most to them. They have learned that the longer you hang in there, the greater the chance that something will happen in your favor. Because true growth is oftentimes the good fortune that comes from aspiration, desperation, perspiration, and inspiration. No matter how hard it seems, the more you persist, the more likely your success in the long run.
3. You will always have less control than you desire.
The only thing you can absolutely control in life is how you react to things out of your control, and there’s a lot you can’t control. The better you adapt to this reality, the more powerful your highs will be, and the more quickly you’ll be able to bounce back from the lows. Put most simply: Living a happy, fulfilling life means being in a state of complete acceptance of all that is, right here, right now.
As your life unfolds, you will often realize that many of the times you thought you were being rejected from something good, you were in fact being redirected to something better. You simply don’t have to control everything to find growth, happiness, or success. You just need to do your best every day, let go, and let life happen the way it’s supposed to. Because oftentimes the outcomes you can’t change end up changing you and helping you grow. (Note: Marc and I discuss this in more detail in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently and throughout our new guided journal, The Good Morning Journal: Powerful Prompts & Reflections to Start Every Day.)
4. You can’t avoid risk without avoiding life.
As Henry David Thoreau once said, “When it’s time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived.”
Living is a risk. Happiness is a risk. If you’re not a little uncertain sometimes, then you’re not doing it right. Don’t worry about mistakes and failures, worry about what you’re giving up when you don’t even try. Worry about the life you’re not living and the happiness you’re forgoing, as you merely exist in the safety of your comfort zone 24/7. Give yourself permission to be one of the people who survived doing it wrong, who made mistakes, but recovered from them and grew stronger.
5. Your biggest problems are often in your head.
The mind is indeed your biggest battleground. It’s the place where the fiercest conflict resides. It’s where half the things you feared would happen, never actually happened. It’s where your expectations get the best of you. And it’s where you fall victim to your own train of thought time and time again. Truly, the primary cause of unhappiness and defeat on the average day is rarely the current situation, but instead your inner resistance to it. Inner growth on the other hand usually comes down to acceptance of the current situation, and then taking constructive action.
Human beings become quite remarkable when they start thinking that they can do great things, right now, without needing anything more. When you gain trust in yourself and the present moment, you have discovered the first secret of growth and success. Because finding your way is not about going somewhere new every second; it’s about seeing familiar ground in new ways. Once you do, you will realize the only difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them. (Read The Last Lecture.)
6. Long-term happiness cannot be bought; it must be earned.
If you’d rather be surrounded by pristine objects of little significance than by the traces of happy, passionate memories, stay focused on acquiring tangible possessions. Otherwise, stop fixating on things you can touch and start caring about the things that touch you. Each of us has a unique fire in our heart for something that makes us feel alive. It’s your duty to find it and keep it lit.
Whatever you do, don’t completely sacrifice your life for your livelihood. Enjoy the gifts money can’t buy. Promise yourself that you will stay true to your loves, your values, and your purpose through thick and thin. Let your heart and mind work as one. Do what it takes so that one day, many moons from now, you can look back at your life, take one final breath, and crack an honest smile.
7. Not everyone will support you the way you had hoped.
If you take every insult or rude remark personally, you will be offended for the rest of your life. One of the most freeing things we learn in life is that we don’t have to agree with everyone, everyone doesn’t have to agree with us, and that’s OK. As Bruce Lee once said, “I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” Live by this quote. Don’t let the opinions of others make you forget.
It takes a long time to learn how to NOT judge yourself through someone else’s eyes, but once you do the world is yours to explore freely. We have all been placed on this earth to discover our own life, and we will never be happy or successful if we try to live someone else’s idea of it. So give up worrying too much about what others think of you. And note to self: Taking a step back to gracefully walk away from situations that threaten your peace of mind, values, morals, or self-worth, is almost always a healthy and necessary step forward.
8. You are better off without some people.
It’s during the toughest times of your life that you’ll get to see the true colors of the people who say they care about you. Notice who sticks around and who doesn’t, and be grateful to those who leave you, for they have given you the room to grow in the space they abandoned, and the awareness to appreciate the people who loved you when you didn’t feel lovable.
Bottom line: Be okay with giving the gift of your absence to those who do not appreciate and respect your presence.
9. You cannot have happiness without some sadness.
Chuck Palahniuk once said, “The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.” Nothing could be closer to the truth. Some sadness is necessary. Everything in life is two-sided. You can’t expect to feel pleasure without ever feeling pain, joy without ever feeling sorrow, confidence without ever feeling fearful, hope without ever feeling uncertain, etc. There is no such thing as a one-sided coin in life, with which you can buy a pain-free, trouble-free life.
Life is a series of highs and lows — an adventure that requires you to take chances and actions that have the possibility of both success (happiness) and failure (sadness).
10. What’s done is done, but life goes on.
In the end, it’s going to be OK… maybe not immediately, but eventually.
Of course, there will be times when it seems like everything that could possibly go wrong is going wrong. You might feel like you will be stuck in this rut forever, but you won’t. Sure the sun stops shining sometimes, and you may get a huge thunderstorm or two, but eventually the sun will come out to shine. Sometimes it’s just a matter of us staying as present and positive as possible in order to make it to see the sun break through the clouds again.
And remind yourself that the trick on the average day is to enjoy the little things. Don’t wish away all your days waiting for better ones ahead. Just do your best to appreciate where you are. You’ve come a long way, and you’re still learning and growing. Be thankful for the progress and lessons. Take them and make the best of things right now.
It’s your turn…
Yes, it’s your turn to make yourself a priority today and in the days ahead. Because you won’t always be a priority to others, and that’s why you need to be a priority to yourself. Practice respecting yourself, taking care of yourself, and gradually growing into a more reliable part of your own support system.
And before you go, please leave Marc and me a comment below and let us know what you think of this essay. Your feedback is important to us. 🙂
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Photo by: Trey Ratcliff