Struggle is a very familiar concept to all of us. Everyone has struggled at some point, in some way in their lives. We may have struggled in school, at work, with money, or with relationships. We may have struggled with making healthy choices, with our spirituality, or with certain expectations that others or society as a whole have held for us. Regardless, we have all known what it is to struggle.
And where there is struggle, there is either success or failure. When we struggle and achieve success we are applauded, celebrated, and praised for a job well done. Society tells us that any struggle that doesn’t lead to success is failure – our society’s view of this subject doesn’t allow for any gray areas. Furthermore, if we fail then we are not good enough in some way…there must be something wrong with us. When we are made to feel this way in regards to our failed struggles, we may feel shame or we may feel unworthy. And after we have experienced failure in our struggles enough times, we often find it harder to take the risk to try and work through the next struggle that comes along. Society teaches us that failure is bad and we internalize that message such that we eventually stop taking risks or chances on the things we believe we can’t succeed at. “If I can’t do it right, I am not going to do it at all” has more or less become the mantra so many of us live by. Yet the paradox of it all is that those risks…those struggles lead to growth, despite whether we succeed or fail.
Interestingly, there are cultures who honor the work, the struggle, the attempts, and the failures that people experience. We see this particularly in their schools and education system, where they teach their children from a young age to value struggle and not to judge one another from a place of struggle – they don’t teach their children that if you struggle and fail you are bad or wrong in some way. Those cultures recognize the value of learning and growing through a struggle. They applaud and celebrate when someone works hard to try and figure something out. Succeed or fail, that is not the point. Working hard to figure it out, to work through it, seeking assistance when needed, is the lesson those cultures teach.
What a different message that gives. Those who get that message are less timid about trying something they are unsure of, are more likely to try new things in general, and have less stress around the subject of failure in their lives. And there’s a freedom in that message too. Imagine for a moment that you were going to do something you either weren’t good at or had never done before…imagine you knew you could work on that thing with no concern whatsoever about any repercussions regardless of how it all turned out. That whether you succeeded or failed, it didn’t matter…people would still praise you, love you, support you…that as you struggled people would actually encourage you to keep trying, to seek assistance, and to not give up. Can you feel the stress dissipate with this model? Can you feel the weight of the world lift off your shoulders with that knowledge? Can you feel the freedom in that message?
“Correction does much, but encouragement does more.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The struggle is truly an honorable one. It is sad that our society chooses to deliver a message that causes so many of us to live in a state of stress, fear, and anxiety…to feel as if we are not good enough…to stop trying for fear of failure. Give yourself permission to experience the struggles in your life and to allow them to be opportunities for you to learn and grow. Failure is not the horrible thing our society tells us it is. In actuality it can be the gateway to many great things. In the words of Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Keep trying to find the ways that work for you in your struggles.