Somewhere along the way, at least in Western culture, struggle’s gotten a bum rap. If you’re smart, we say, then mastering something new will be easy. That is, after all, what being smart means. Smart is who you are. You achieve things because of who you are. If you don’t catch on to something quickly or achieve a dream with ease, then obviously you’re not “good” at it. You’re not smart. You should hang it up. Move on to something else. To heck with struggling.
But maybe it’s not all that simple.
Recently, I’ve become aware that in Eastern culture it’s understood that learning a new skill will involve struggle before it’s mastered. Struggle is seen as an opportunity. Working hard to learn something is how you achieve it. It’s not about who you are, but what you do. You are admired for your perseverance.
Taking a cue from Eastern culture, I’m choosing to see struggle as an opportunity too. At the health system where I work, we label an area or process that could use refinement as an “opportunity for improvement.” The inevitable mistakes that come with learning are not seen as negative. They are a chance to grow, stretch and struggle to make things even better. I love that. It’s freeing and motivating.
My personal struggle of choice is to become a published children’s book author. As much as I love writing and for as long as I’ve pursued publication, realizing this dream is still just out of my reach. Can I honestly say I enjoy the struggle? Oh yes, just about as much as Julia Child adored deep-sea diving. But I am learning to embrace the struggle as part of the process. Who knows, maybe it’s the most valuable part.
Come to think of it, most worthwhile things in life are achieved through hard work and struggle–creating a happy marriage, raising confident, compassionate kids, earning a diploma, starting a business, writing an engaging novel, learning to cook a heavenly holiday feast.
What about you? You must have a dream too or something you’d like to/need to learn that’s a challenge for you. Do you welcome the challenge and assume that you’ll struggle a bit to start? (Note, I define a “bit” as anywhere from a few hours to a decade, depending.)
How you view struggle oftentimes determines how long you’ll stick with something. But remember, struggling is not a red flag telling you that you’re not cut out for this, that you have no talent or that because it’s not “easy” for you that you’re not smart. No need to duck and run. Save the apologies and excuse-making. I (ever-so-humbly) suggest that you join me in embracing the process. G’head. Give it a good hug. When you can do that, regardless of the outcome, you are already a grand success.
You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it. – Maya Angelou