I listened to a snippet of a podcast today from Lewis Howes in which one theme was “we don’t grow when things are fabulous”. In other words, we tend not to expand ourselves when things are already going pretty great. It is only when we face hardship that we truly test our inner mettle and rise to or above the occasion.
We see examples of this all the time. Jay Z grew up in the projects surrounded by drugs and crime, and is now worth over $500 million. Oprah Winfrey was born in poverty and is now worth billions (BILLIONS!). Even in nature, birds, snakes, and turtles must break out of their shell on their own in order to create the strength necessary to thrive in the wild. There is no progress without adversity.
Of course, not all of us are ‘lucky’ enough to have such suffering early in life that creates that inner drive and hunger. Which brings me to a question: how can you progress if you, for all intents and purposes, face no difficulties? How can you raise to greater and greater heights if you are at a fairly satisfactory middle ground?
If you are fortunate enough to have made it to average, you need to create your own adversity. This means setting goals for yourself that will 100% cause you to struggle and fail and feel frustrated and cry and feel like it’s almost impossible. There is no glory for the boy who performs his perfunctory 30 minute treadmill walk and 20 lb bicep curls. The prestige come for the man who adds on the extra 25 lb plate and performs so many reps that he drops his weights to the floor with a snarl. There is no recognition for the girl who perpetually moves through the assigned, stereotypical stages that history has laid out for her. The kudos comes for the woman who chooses to achieve great things in her career while still being an amazing mother, ride or die friend, and kick-ass romantic partner. Giving yourself hurdles to jump and mountains to climb means that you are forcing yourself to grow, expanding your mind, and most importantly, constantly reaching for more.
Of course, there are those who are perfectly content to stay in the middle lane, and why shouldn’t they be? They have no reason to work hard. Once the average existence is set in motion, there is a momentum that keeps things going at a comfortable speed, with only a slight push needed every once in a while. Life is good.
But here’s the thing.
We only have one life. Take a minute or 30 to really, truly think about that reality. One life. Singular. Unique. Specific. Finite. One.
What are you going to do with yours?
I grew up reading the Bible, and while I am not religious now, I still value the wisdom that many of the stories have to offer. There is one parable that is particularly relevant to this situation, where there are three servants who are each given one talent while their Master goes away. The first two servants grew their talents in different ways and showed a profit upon his return, but the third played it safe, buried it, and presented the same talent on the day of reckoning. How well do you think his one talent was received?
If you don’t take your one life that you are given and do everything in your power to make it as amazing as you can, how are you going to feel when you look back on your life? How much better would it be to recall a life full of adversity, failure, and eventual success versus a life of 80-100 identical, average, complacent years? No one tells stories about that one time they made a comfortable salary and repainted their white picket fence every three years. Impressive stories, mind-blowing stories, glorious stories are made of times when you are so despondent that you cannot imagine sinking any lower, or so dizzyingly high that you feel absolutely invincible.
If life does not give you the opportunity to look failure in the eye and try anyway, create that chance for yourself. Choose to put yourself out there. Choose to be scared. Choose to strive for things just out of your reach so that you can evolve upwards and pluck the highest, sun-kissed fruit for yourself and those you love.
But these are just words.
Triumph is only obtained when words become action. This whole idea of intentional adversity is something that I have struggled with recently, and is the whole reason that I started this blog. When things are pretty good, why would I want to go for more? Why should I risk possible failure at something big when I already have a sure thing here and now? Why on earth would I face potential defeat just for a small chance at greatness?