All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.
— Helen Keller
Character and wisdom are both sculpted over time. These qualities come with loss, lessons, and triumphs. They come after doubts, second guesses, and exploring unknowns. If there was a definitive path to personal growth, everyone would be on it.
Truth be told, the seeds of your progress are often planted in your past failures. Some of your best stories will likely come from overcoming your greatest struggles. And your praises will be birthed from your growing pains.
Marc and I learned some of this the hard way. Over the past fifteen years we have dealt with several significant hardships, including the sudden death of a sibling, the loss of a best friend to illness, betrayal from a business partner, an unexpected breadwinning employment layoff, and more. These experiences were brutal. Each of them 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 challenges as paths that ultimately lead to your growth. It’s about making the best of the path you’re currently on, even if it’s not the path you expected or wanted to be on. Easier said than done sometimes, of course, but here are a few key points to consider:
1. The first steps forward are never easy.
The beginnings to good things are always the hardest, but it’s these hard steps that often pave the way to better times. Be strong and keep the faith; it will be worth it in the end. The greatest miracle of your success from this point forward will not be that you finished, it will be that you found the strength and courage to begin, again and again.
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.
2. Progress rarely comes quick and easy.
Life is not easy. And progress usually comes gradually, not all at once. You must align your daily efforts with your near-term goals and then start every day ready to walk a little farther than you did yesterday, and perhaps fight a little harder than you ever have before.
The bottom line is that persistence is the single most common characteristic of high achievers in all walks of life. They simply refuse to give up on the things that matter most to them. They have learned that the longer you hang in there, the greater the chance that something will happen in your favor. Because true growth is oftentimes 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 in the long run.
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 simply don’t have to control everything to find growth, happiness, or success. You just need to do your best every day, let go, and let life happen the way it’s supposed to. Because oftentimes the outcomes you can’t change end up changing you and helping you grow. (Note: Marc and I discuss this in more detail in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently and throughout our new guided journal, The Good Morning Journal: Powerful Prompts & Reflections to Start Every Day.)
4. You can’t 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 uncertain 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 24/7. Give yourself permission to be one of the people who survived doing it wrong, who made mistakes, but recovered from them and grew stronger.
5. Your biggest problems are often in your head.
The mind is indeed your biggest battleground. It’s the place where the fiercest conflict resides. It’s where half the things you feared would happen, never actually happened. It’s where your expectations get the best of you. And it’s where you fall victim to your own train of thought time and time again. Truly, the primary cause of unhappiness and defeat on the average day is rarely the current situation, but instead your inner resistance to it. Inner growth on the other hand usually comes down to acceptance of the current situation, and then taking constructive action.
Human beings become quite remarkable when they start thinking that they can do great things, right now, without needing anything more. When you gain trust in yourself and the present moment, you have discovered the first secret of growth and success. Because finding your way is not about going somewhere new every second; 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. (Read The Last Lecture.)
6. Long-term happiness cannot be bought; it must be earned.
If you’d rather be 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 through thick and thin. 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 the way you had hoped.
If you take every insult or rude remark 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 takes a long time to learn how to NOT judge yourself through someone else’s eyes, but once you do the world is yours to explore freely. 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. And note to self: Taking a step back to gracefully walk away from situations that threaten your peace of mind, values, morals, or self-worth, is almost always a healthy and necessary step forward.
8. You are better off without some people.
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).
10. What’s done is done, but life goes on.
In the end, it’s going to be OK… maybe not immediately, but eventually.
Of course, 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 present and positive as possible in order to make it to see the sun break through the clouds again.
And remind yourself that the trick on the average day is to enjoy the little things. Don’t wish away all your days waiting for better ones ahead. Just do your best to appreciate where you are. You’ve come a long way, and you’re still learning and growing. Be thankful for the progress and lessons. Take them and make the best of things right now.
It’s your turn…
Yes, it’s your turn to make yourself a priority today and in the days ahead. Because you won’t always be a priority to others, and that’s why you need to be a priority to yourself. Practice respecting yourself, taking care of yourself, and gradually growing into a more reliable part of your own support system.
And before you go, please leave Marc and me a comment below and let us know what you think of this essay. Your feedback is important to us. 🙂
Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.
Photo by: Trey Ratcliff
What beautiful and comforting words! My life has been about dysfunctional family ties, painful scapegoating, learning this late in life to finally let them go because they were never mine and never truly wanted me in the first place. Now i can fly, I have an amazing husband who stuck by me and my love for rescuing animals has saved me more than you would ever know. I’ve redefined my life and my boundaries.
Sad that I’ve had to go to nasty lengths sometimes to shake up the muck to let it leave me, but to hold on and know that I forgive them and I forgive myself is powerful and in my faith I am free.
Thank you once again for what you do!
Jennifer Simons says
This is so well said. Thank you for writing, thank you for being, and thank you for expressing your truth. 🙂 Jenn
This is indeed inspiring and eye opening 🙂
Mary Ann R says
I love you both for your refreshing insight on life.
This article came up in my email inbox today and man, it just so hits home. I lost my job a few months ago because my position was being eliminated. This after being there 10 years and being told on the morning of my 10th anniversary. The job ended, life moved on then a few weeks ago, my job, same title and all, shows up on Indeed. The feeling of anger and frustration started all over again. It’s been sticking with me and hard to shake, especially finding out a co-worker had a lot to do with it, all the while acting supportive.
This line among so many helped me so much today:
‘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.’ – thanks for that. I needed that today and most every day.
May life bless you as you continue this work. You touch so many peoples life with your words. I personally just wanted to express my appreciation.
Challenges do create opportunities to grow. I’ve had more than can be listed here over the past three years. The positive attitude I have grown to cherish becomes more persistent over time and my gratitude list has changed from things to the blessings of being alive today.
Sometimes we must remove ourselves from people we love because our presence is their biggest trigger to deeper problems they are not ready to, or able to, face. Staying made the anger and violence escalate. Leaving removes at least one of the biggest excuses to ignore the deeper issues. I grew in the sense my own desires were replaced with love. Love enough to let go. Faith enough to move on without an assurance I would have a place to stay.
Letting go of the desire to see change in the world. Growing by changing myself.
The long term health challenges I have had have impacted my ability to support myself. This challenge has helped me grow more trusting of the universe and less dependent on the ‘things’ I once took for granted and no longer can afford to have in my life. The most important things are free.
Great article. The one I would add is…
#11. You can care for some people and still not be able to be around them. There are some relationships that may be grounded in history or former experiences that eventually don’t fit with the way you’ve grown. You may still care for a person in your life but just know it isn’t good to spend too much time with him or her. And that’s ok.
Chandra Melton says
I loved this bc I’ve been holding on to the motorcycle accident I was involved in recently. I know I’m still healing from my injuries but I’m just ready for it all to be in the past. And you said it perfect- thunderstorms will come but so will the sun. So I just need to focus on the fact that I survived and be thankful for my healing daily. Your words help a lot so thank you guys so much!
Oh Thank You so much for these reminders. Timing is impeccable!
This line resonates with me … “Give yourself permission to be one of the people who survived doing it wrong, who made mistakes, but recovered from them and grew stronger.”
Jane Pritchard says
Hey guys, another thought provoking message. Thanks so much. I get so much out of your posts everyday and if they force me to grow and learn, all the better! Thank-you. Love you guys.
I always enjoy reading your articles and getting a notification in my email. I try to send them to family and friends too.
Lorena Godbout says
Beautiful article. Thank you so much for taking the time to put these words out for the world to see 🙂
Vikram P says
Excellent and thought provoking write up.. Gives lot of positivity when things are not going your way.. More power to you both.. Keep writing and keep inspiring!
Lori Meyers says
Your essay is spot on! Thank you for capturing what I am always thing about! It is very well done
I found some resolution in truly letting go of a person who had such high expectations that I could never attain to them. In the end, my health issues forced me to make a decision to leave as the stress of living with someone who didn’t accept me was too harsh. I thought this phrase was perfect for my situation, “Be okay with giving the gift of absence to those who do not appreciate and respect your presence. Practice respecting yourself and taking care of yourself and gradually growing into a more reliable part of your own support system.” I am now living a life I only dreamed of and feeling accepted by family and friends. Thank you for such wise words.
Mary Stephenson says
It is always about a new chapter in life. Forgetting the regrets to get past them is definitely difficult. Like you say whats done is done. Trying to close chapters and open up a new one. It has been a hard lesson to realize the promises of someone else being on the same journey and then making it impossible to count on them. For the last 3 months I have decided my goal has to be my own and I will figure it out. Jumping outside of my comfort zone. At the end of the day it is only me that I can count on 100 %. So, the journey has begun, even if it is slower than I hoped. But each day taking at least one step further should be noticeable after a year on this new invented me. Always find your writings inspiring.
Dana Smith says
I have pulled so many things from this email. Like I can’t even tell you How much it meant. I have struggled so much trying to move past a unilateral decision That has ruined a friendship and potential romantic relationship. It has been so tough Reckoning with the reality of that decision And the loss it Created has been devastating. I tried to figure it out And move forward, but I struggle daily with it. But I have clipped so many sentences out of this email that I’m going to string together and give myself that daily affirmation of these very important things that I must keep in mind in order to move forward and be the person that I know that I am and I’ve always held out to be. I could never take back the egregious mistake that I made, but that I can and will figure out how to move forward.
DUANE BLAMEY says
Short and Sweet: Marc and Angel, my daughter and I just love your GREAT Words of Wisdom, and have been reading them for Several Years now. Thank you. You are the Best.
Simon Skaggs says
Often times you learn valuable life lessons from your setbacks.
Take the time to figure out why you didn’t succeed at something .and use that knowledge you gain to your advantage.
Experience is a valuable teacher.
Your essays and letters have helped me grow and keep moving forward. Accepting life on life’s terms, is not easy, but accepting and reacting in the right way makes it rewarding. Thank you for your insights that help me daily.
I thought this was wonderful and I’m thankful for finding it. Not over-written – direct and to the point which I love.
Margaret Kling says
Exactly what I needed to hear! It is a powerful message and one that will continue to resonate. I am a newly retired business owner. I am facing a lot of fears and excitement of what “retirement” looks like for me and my husband. Reinventing myself and being grateful for every day is my current strategy.
Sandhya Venkatesh says
I needed to read this article today. I made me feel better instantly. “You will always have less control than you desire”. I read this twice because I feel the need to control quite a few things in my life. I have bookmarked this page and will revisit it frequently. Thank you for the insightful article.
Kris Cook says
I’m glad I was given this article today in my Google feed. This article was a blessing. I went through a thunderstorm today like you said. I like the part about where it’s time to take care of yourself. My aunt told me that today. Then you confirmed. I need to work on myself. I’m going through a lot right now and I need to fix myself and heal. Your article really hit the spot today. It’s just what I needed. I appreciate your article and help. Thank you.
Jamie Mondillo says
Thank you for this essay….I am deeply grateful for your thoughtful approach to life. What a great outreach to many of us who struggle daily…..truly love receiving your messages.