It is easy to fixate on a struggle that makes your life hard while thinking that your experience would be so much better if it resolved itself. Most rational people can discern different degrees of human struggles. Indeed some people live more challenging lives than others. However, while asking myself every day about what it is the meaning of life and what should I expect to achieve or experience before I die, my intuition tells me again and again that the problems, obstacles, inconveniences, or hostile forces that I am facing right now are the pathway to meaning.
It would be naive to expect that you would wake up one day and no longer have any problems. Even in an exceptional circumstance, where you happen to have a prolonged amount of time without any opposing force of life battling you, you might realize that: first, boredom becomes inevitable as a consequence of monotony and lack of challenge. This can be as unpleasant as actually having any other challenge. Second, too much certainty creates the feeling that you are missing something about life. And third, you might not feel good about yourself when alone, due to the lack of self-worth, as everything has been given to you. If you had to choose between being part of the winning team (without actually having been part of the victory) and being part of the losing team (knowing that you engaged with your body and soul throughout the entire process), which would you choose?
In my opinion, striving for the trophy provides more intrinsic meaning than having a medal that you didn’t earn. Even if everyone thinks that the award you currently have is the best evidence on earth of success, deep inside, you know it does not have as much value. Why would engage with the challenge to reach the top of the mountain be much more rewarding than just appearing at the top of the hill without any effort? In my opinion, the answer lies in the essential need of human beings to find different layers of strength when encountering the unknown. The entire process of aiming at something of value and working towards making it produces an internal reward that cures boredom and elevates your self-worth by providing the evidence that you can achieve that which you desire. In other words, assuming new challenges voluntarily brings meaning to your existence.
Despite this, what about the battles you never agreed to fight–those challenges in which no one voluntarily engages that you become submerged in? It seems to me that even the attitude towards these challenges should be the same. Meeting these circumstances is not complicated, but at the same time, it may be challenging. Those who cultivate practicality have a better chance of facing those difficult moments. Resisting what you cannot change is not practical but insane. Practicality is reflected in asking oneself the “right” questions while facing a struggle.
The “right” questions have an answer that will help you gain clarity and move forward in the situation. What is within my control? What is my response going to be? Does my response reflect my values and what I stand for? Am I the first person in the story of humanity in experiencing this? Has anyone with fewer internal resources managed to overcome this situation? What could this struggle mean?
Building a pragmatic attitude, as I am suggesting, is easier said than done. That is because, during moments of struggle, your whole nervous system enters into a state of alert that doesn’t allow you to be rational, to gain insight into the situation. Even so, realizing for a second that you could potentially have within the spectrum of problems, you could try to feel grateful that you are not going through something worse.
As paradoxical as it sounds, being in touch with the tragedy of life can provide insight into how vulnerable you are as an individual and collectively. At the same time, you may grasp that things could have gone wrong a long time before the present moment but didn’t. When you live in an environment of order where everything has kept you safe both physically and psychologically, it is natural to assume that it is normal. Therefore something you may feel entitled to.
Conversely, if you stepped away and stopped making the inaccurate assumption that your personal experience is the best model in which you can ground your expectations, then maybe you can comprehend that it was a bloody miracle that everything works out for you for so long. Diving into the stories of people who have gone through much deeper tragedies than you and still were able to overcome them is a gift that makes you humble and gives you a proof of the potential of resilience that exists in every one of us.
This letter’s point is for you to recognize that you can find appreciation in the climax of a storm by acknowledging everything has gone well for you, and it didn’t work necessarily for everyone else. Moreover, recognize you can find meaning in your struggle by reminding yourself that you wouldn’t want a life without problems or challenges. Second, despite how bewildered you are, you can always easily imagine a deeper layer of hardship that you do not have to deal with. It certainly is through exposure to new challenges that you learn to question your identity and your perception of reality in a way you never did.
Cultivation of this attitude is the pathway to burning those components of yourself that no longer serve you. Set a firm intention to make things better even when everything seems to be falling apart. Whatever is your struggle, I hope to convince you that struggle is not only a necessary part of life but ultimately brings meaning to your existence.