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The Joy of Struggle

choice fulfilling life meaningful life struggle suffering Jan 10, 2022

Life is hard. No one has to tell us this. We learn it from experience.

When we do experience joy, it is usually manifested as brief moments of sunshine on a dreary day.

But there can also be joy within struggle. For example, we may struggle due to something being inherently difficult, such as mastering a new language. Or we may struggle due to lack of knowledge of how to do something, as can happen when we opt to teach ourselves a subject instead of taking a class or otherwise working with someone who can guide us and instruct us in key knowledge pertaining to the topic.

Some people conflate struggle with suffering, but there is a major difference between the two.

For the most part, suffering is a choice. We split with our partner and feel miserable. In some cases we may stay with our partner and feel miserable. In both cases this feeling of misery is a choice. After all, many people are able to move on with their lives soon after a breakup. Some need to be in a relationship at all times, while some are fine on their own and relish the freedom this brings to their life.

Something similar can happen when we are fired or laid off from a job. Some people fall into a feeling of despair and entertain feelings of low self-worth and impostor syndrome while others stay positive, update their resume, and reach out to their network to let them know they're open to new possibilities. Yet others decide to move into entrepreneurship and be their own boss.

And similar to the example above about some people feeling miserable due to a breakup or due to staying in an unhealthy relationship, some may stay at a job they don't like, where they are neither respected nor valued, and suffer needlessly.

We often even have a choice when it comes to suffering from something as concrete as physical pain. We can take pain medication, or—even better—we can take better care of ourselves in the first place. We can eat a healthier diet, exercise regularly, and maintain a more active lifestyle.

Struggle is usually a choice as well. But it is frequently a conscious choice, while suffering is most often an unconscious one.

If we choose to struggle, we are saying that we are not okay with our current situation or circumstance. We want something better, or at least different. We see a particular future, and are willing to go through a period of struggle in order to attain that vision we see. These are worthy pursuits!

This is something every entrepreneur knows well. Artists, too, are familiar with the struggling artist archetype.

What do you believe in or want so bad that you'd be willing to struggle to achieve it? If you don't have an easy answer to this question, you may want to identify and list out your core values. Write down everything you can think of that you love or that is important to you. What stands out? You should also write down everything you hate, or which annoys you. Oftentimes, these are clues to something that is important to you.

As an example, hypocrisy is something that has always angered me, but until I did this exercise several years ago I never really considered that this is because I highly value its opposite: genuineness, or authenticity. So what are the opposites of the things you hate or are annoyed by?

Struggling towards a goal is important. This is where the bulk of our life experience comes from. It is what both builds and defines our character.

As we work towards a goal we encounter both setbacks and wins. To some these setbacks mark failure, for others they are important learning opportunities on the way to success. For these people, the wins are important signposts that they are on the right track.

Life without struggle is stagnation. It is mired in superficialities and apathy.

Both suffering and struggling are choices, but suffering leads to pain and despair while struggling can lead to joy and accomplishment, so be mindful of the choices you make.

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