This is going to start out dark, but it’ll get better, I promise…
I want you to think about the worst thing that has ever happened to you in your life. Every is very different and even varying opinions on a similar situation, so focus on your worst thing. Maybe make a top 3 list just to really round out this little mental exercise. For me, they would be:
–the girl I loved in high school rejecting me (age 15)
–my parents getting divorced (age 20)
–getting hit head on by a wrong way drunk driver (age 45)
I don’t remember a lot about my younger days, so this list starts as a teen for me. I am sure there are things that I have suppressed and don’t recall for now. I am working some emotional archeology to dig some of this stuff up, but that is a story for another time. Now, when you look at these, two of them might seem like they pale in comparison to the other one. I was lucky to walk away from the car crash basically unscathed, but I can tell you that the emotional impact of these three things are all on par with each other in my mind. I am sure your list is quite different, and again that is to be expected. But we are getting to the real point of this exercise, which is how your perspective on life is shaped heavily by this list of yours.
If you have lived a life of privilege and/or never had any real difficulty to deal with, you are handicapped in your perspective. I firmly believe this. Your measuring stick for how bad things are is quite short compared to someone who grew up in a rough neighborhood or in an abusive household. If you have been swimming downriver all your life and you do finally face some real challenges, you are going to be devastated by them and not have developed the capacity to handle it well. You NEED to suffer on occasion to build your tolerance, more on that in a few moments. While your parents may thought they were doing you a favor by hovering over you your whole life and paving the way to success for you, they actually did a disservice to you in some ways. Don’t blame them, you didn’t come with an owner’s manual and they did what they thought was the best thing for you. But in some ways this was detrimental for your development.
This kind of perspective is a tricky thing; most of us do not want to suffer willingly, but nothing builds character and inner strength like suffering does. And in some cases, the more you create suffering by choosing to do difficult things, the tougher in makes you inside. If you consciously choose to do things that really test you on a regular basis like jujitsu or distance running or learning to play an instrument, you can develop your own resolve in this manner. I don’t wish for you to have a rough life, but if you do not have something to overcome along the way, you are likely to be less fortified for tough times. I would highly encourage you to add struggle and difficulty into your life by doing some of the things I listed above. You need to feel pain, endure and move on, to really understand just how much you can take. If you grew up a sheltered snowflake all your life and think the world owes you something or that words someone speaks are harmful to you, you need some resilience training.
So my question is: What is the worst thing that has happened to you? This is in a way your measuring stick for how you see the world. If you have dealt with a harsh upbringing or a tragedy over the course of your life, you likely have more tolerance than others. If you have dealt with and overcome some adversity in your life, you know that you can take a hit and keep going. Most people have never been in a fight, but the analogy still applies. What you are willing to endure to improve, survive, or even thrive? That is the real key to life, how much can you take and still keep moving forward.
The world is a crazy place, and things do not always happen fairly. That is a fact of existence, and no amount of protesting, pouting or hiding is going to change that. You need to get this through your head right now…toughen up. If you don’t, you’re life is going to be full of situations that make you feel bad or offend you. Take your pick…do you want a life that you have some level of control over, where you struggle and strive, win and lose and play the game? Or you do you want a life where you wake up a victim every day, or open your eyes looking for new ways to be offended? The latter of those options is growing more and more common, but this is by no means moving things in the right direction in my opinion. The world does not work this way, no matter how much you wish it did.
I grew up in a good family scenario with lots of support and love. Yes, there is plenty of dysfunction in my family, don’t get me wrong, but all-in-all, I was lucky. But I also grew up on a farm and learned early what hard work was. I was taught to drive a tractor as age 9 to help out when it was hay baling season. I mucked horse stalls, I fixed fences, I gathered eggs from the chickens. Looking back, it was a great teacher of a core life skill. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning the benefits of struggle. We didn’t have a lot of money but I didn’t know any different; I grew up in a really small town where no one seemed to be rich. We didn’t have the internet and social media back then, so comparing my life to others was relegated to my own social circle at school and the few friends I lived nearby. I didn’t know that some people got brand new BMWs for the 16th birthday and I had no idea what partying at Coachella or in Ibiza meant. It was a simpler time and I think much easier than today.
My Dad got me into wrestling at a young age, as that’s what he did in high school and beyond. I was groomed to be a wrestler, heading to college on a scholarship. That ended in my freshman year in high school with a neck injury. While this was the scariest thing that happened to me physically until my car crash, I didn’t put it on the list based on the emotional impact of the other examples. It changed the course of what I thought my life going to be, but even so I am keeping the list as is. Looking back at that situation, it was a good learning experience and something I reflect on as a reminder that not everything goes as planned and ultimately that we are not defined by what we do. I was convinced I was headed to a successful high school wrestling career and then on to college on a scholarship. The scholarship was important because we didn’t have the money to send me to college otherwise. One broken bone in my neck changed the course of my life, but I adapted. This was not going to be the end of me, just the end of the journey down that particular path. Because this happened, I found my way into the sport of racquetball instead.
I never would have played racquetball professionally if that neck injury didn’t occur. I never would have taken the path in my love life I did if I had my wish at the time of my high school love reciprocating my feelings for her. If she did, I probably would have given up on my own dreams, gotten married and started working to pay bills, raise kids, etc. Many people do this, and some of them are happy. For me, especially knowing what I know now, this was not the right path for me. I would be a shadow of myself now; I would not have reached the top 20 in the world as a Pro Racquetball Player, I would not have been a National Champion Coach or two time recipient of Coach of the Year, I would not have written several books and I would not be a Professional Speaker. ALL OF THIS was forged out of the struggles and the pain that my life had to offer me along the way. I needed those shortcomings and failures to get where I am today. Here is the key lesson I learned:
I never quit, and I learned to adapt.
That’s it, that is all there is to it. Now, this is easy to say and not easy to do, but KNOWING that this is the key to success is a huge help. I am telling you this right now, here, in this moment, learn to be adaptable. That is the key to life. All of the things you decide to undertake will shape and form who you are, and the worst things that happen to you are in retrospect sometimes the best things that happen to you in the long run.
No one is sure of where life will lead them, but those of us who learn to embrace struggles, to face hardships, to adapt and overcome will be far better prepared than those who do not. It is that simple. As the famous Asian philosophy quote goes:
It is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.
This perfectly sums up what I am talking about. If you know how to handle things in the future because of your past, you are FAR better off than most. Suffering and struggle is necessary to prepare you for whatever lies ahead. Think of it like studying for a test, you are preparing for difficulties later by facing some of them now, and others along the way. You are getting ready. And trust me, you’re gonna need it.
I wish you luck in your endeavors.