All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.
— Helen Keller
Character and wisdom are sculpted over time. They come with loss, lessons, and triumphs. They come after doubts, second guesses, and exploring unknowns. If there were a definitive path to happiness and success, everyone would be on it. The seeds of your progress are planted in your past failures. Your best stories will come from overcoming your greatest struggles. Your praises will be birthed from your pains. So keep standing, keep learning, and keep living.
Over the past fifteen years Angel and I have dealt with several severe hardships, including the sudden death of a sibling, the loss of a best friend to illness, betrayal from a business partner, and an unexpected breadwinning employment layoff. These experiences were brutal. Each of them, unsurprisingly, 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 toughest challenges as friends that are going to help you grow.
Here are some thoughts to consider…
1. The first step is never easy.
The beginnings to good things are always the hardest, but it’s these hard times that pave the path to greatness. Be strong and keep the faith. It will be worth it in the end. The greatest miracle of your success in life will not be that you finished, it will be that you found the strength and courage to begin.
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 forward.
2. Good things rarely come quick and easy.
Life is not easy, but it’s worth it. If you expect it to be, you will perpetually disappoint yourself. Achieving anything worthwhile in life takes time and effort. You must align your efforts with your goals and then start every day ready to run farther than you did yesterday and fight harder than you ever have before.
Persistence is the single most common characteristic of high achievers. They simply refuse to give up. The longer you hang in there, the greater the chance that something will happen in your favor. Success is 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. (Read The Last Lecture.)
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 don’t have to control everything to find peace and happiness. You just need to do your best, and then relax and have faith that things will work out. Let go and just let life happen the way it’s supposed to. Because sometimes the outcomes you can’t change end up changing you and helping you grow to your full potential.
4. You cannot 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 scared 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. Give yourself permission to be one of the people who survived doing it wrong, who made mistakes, but recovered from them and grew into your truest self.
5. Your biggest problems are often in your head.
The primary cause of unhappiness and defeat is never the current situation but your thoughts about it. Happiness and success really comes down to two elements: the way you think and the way you act based upon your thoughts.
Human beings become really quite remarkable when they start thinking that they can do great things, right now, without the need for anything more. When you believe in yourself, you have realized the first secret of success. Often finding your way is not about going somewhere new; 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. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Goals and Success” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
6. Long-term happiness cannot be bought; it must be earned.
If you’d rather live 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. 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.
If you take every insult or rude slur of your fellow human beings 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.
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 for the taking. 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. Regardless of what they say about you and your chosen path, remember that the only approval you need in the end is your own.
8. You are better off without some people you care about.
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). (Read Buddha’s Brain.)
10. What’s done is done, but life goes on.
If you are carrying strong emotions about something that happened in your past, they may hinder your ability to live productively in the present. With everything that has happened, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift of knowledge. Everything is either an opportunity to learn and grow or an obstacle that keeps you stuck. You get to choose.
Take a deep breath. It’s going to be OK… maybe not today, but eventually. 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 positive as possible in order to make it to see the sunshine break through the clouds again.
What would you add to this post? What’s one harsh reality you’ve had to face, or hardship you’ve had to deal with, that helped you grow?
Please leave us a comment below and share your thoughts.
Photo by: Trey Ratcliff