Life is Hard

Life is hard.  Work.  Deadlines.  Commutes.  Health.  Weight Gain.  (Attempted) Weight Loss.  Kids.  Bills.  Layoffs.  The Economy.  Death.  Relationships.  Life, we can all agree, has its share of challenges, its ups and its downs.  But, you should be thankful for that.  For one, it helps weed out those among us who really don’t want success, don’t want to go through the bumps and cracks that lie on any road to ultimate achievement.  But, as I will show you, the more important thing to remember is that Life is Hard because we who want to grow, who want to learn, who want to get the most out of life, need for it to be hard.

Don’t get me wrong.  Life doesn’t HAVE to be hard.  In fact, I read a book recently that explained just that.  A successful executive- we’ll call him John- had a mild heart attack and was ordered by his doctor to take three weeks vacation as far away from work as possible.  He decided to fly away to a small town in Mexico, right on the beach.  For the first several mornings, John sat on the beach and watched a man, very close in age to his own it appeared, go out in a small boat for a few hours, catch some fish, then return.  John watched in almost amazement as the man, day in and day out, brought his boat back to shore, unloaded the fish, then strolled off in the mid-day.  Occasionally, the man couldn’t wait to enjoy his catch and would grill some of the fish immediately on shore.  He appeared to be extremely happy, very content, as he ate and enjoyed the food, the ocean, the beach- his simple life.  Never did this whole process, even when stopping to eat, last more than four or five hours, almost always ending in the early afternoon. 

After watching this process for several mornings, John could no longer contain his curiosity.  He approached the man and sparked a conversation.  Lucky for John, and probably not by coincidence, it was one of the days the fisherman decided to grill some of his catch.  The man was extremely kind, very humble, and welcomed John’s company.  He offered John food; John accepted.  The two sat and enjoyed the wonderful day together.  After tasting how delicious the fish was, John’s years of experience as an executive and MBA from Harvard got him thinking.

John:                How long do you fish each morning?
Fisherman:        Long enough.
John:                Long enough for what?
Fisherman:        To catch enough fish for the evening, enough to enjoy with my family and friends
John:                You know: you really could make a lot of money selling this fish; I could help
Fisherman:        How?
John:                First we (he was already saying ‘we’) need to get you more boats and fisherman
Fisherman:        Then what?
John:                Then, we can start by scheduling the boats and selling to the local restaurants
Fisherman:        Then what?
John:                We’ll use that success to buy more boats and hire more fishermen
Fisherman:        Then what?
John:                We’ll go International, selling to restaurants in California and Florida, maybe New York
Fisherman:        Then what?
John:                If we’re lucky, after 10 years or so of growing the business, we’ll sell the company
Fisherman:        Then what?
John:                You’ll be RICH! You can retire wherever you want
Fisherman:        Then what?
John:                You can just enjoy life! Live on the beach, fish in the morning, enjoy food and wine with family in the evenings.
Fisherman:        uhhh, but I already do that.

Within this fable lies an important lesson for all of us.  We spend our lives working for things that are either well within our reach or already in our lives.  We don’t need to be a millionaire to enjoy time with our family and friends.  We don’t need to have achieved some position, some title, or some dollar figure salary before we’ve made enough to deserve relaxation and calmness.  We can do all of that now.  We can have all of it today.

But let’s be real.  You and I are not retiring to a beach hut in Mexico tomorrow, where we can live off the land, living and enjoying hour to hour.  It’s just not happening, especially for those of us who want to get the most out of our God-given abilities and give back to the world in every way we can- those of us ADDICTED TO IMPROVEMENT.

So what?  What do we do with Life?  How do we cope?  With its complexities.  With its difficulties. Because as I said in the opening: Life IS Hard (even IF it doesn’t HAVE to be).  Mr. Boss still wants that report by Monday.  Husband still needs his clothes picked up from the dry cleaning and dinner cooked.  Wife still needs the gutter cleaned out and the cars washed.  Daughter and Son still need to be bathed and helped with their homework.  Oh, and your gut (or whatever your least favorite body part is) that has grown exponentially since you were young is begging you to go for that walk every day like you promised.  What do we do about all that in the meantime?  Until the day we can retire to Mexico, that is.

Embrace it, that’s what.  Yup, I said embrace it.  Accept it.  Love it.  Even ask for it.  Because “it”- Life being hard, that is- is what we need as human beings to grow.

Let me explain.  We all do it.  Complain.  “My job is so stressful.”  “My kids try my patience.”  “I don’t feel comfortable speaking up in meetings.”  Then, we turn around and, in the next breath (mostly privately to ourselves), say we want to be recognized as strong-minded, confident employees; as the guiding force in the family who deals with challenges calmly and maturely; or as the person everyone anxiously listens to at company meetings.  We say we hate going to the gym or going for a jog, then turn around and say we want to look good in our clothes.  We hate the work it seems to take to nurture and develop relationships with our colleagues, friends, and family; then say we want loving and fruitful connections with these same people.  And we want to get that degree or certificate to add to our resume, but complain about how long it’s going to take.

Well, newsflash: you can’t have it both ways.

You can’t want to be a patient person without wishing for challenges to said patience. You can’t develop confidence speaking in front of people without going through the discomfort it causes until you adapt.  Your job will surely be stressful as long as you press yourself to continue to learn and grow.  It’s obvious that neither physical nor emotional development can be gained without taking steps to make it so.  And if you aren’t willing to suck it up and study –for however long it takes- to get that degree, somebody else will, and get that job you want!

That’s just the way it is.  We don’t need to look for easier ways to experience life.  We should all look for HARDER ways.  A wise man (probably in one of the books I’ve read) once said that if you are comfortable, you are not growing.  I believe that is completely true, one of the universe’s unavoidable, unbreakable equations.  Challenge equals growth.  There is no growth without challenge.

Speaking of challenge, I challenge you to do this.  Sit down over the next couple of days and write down the things you’d like to accomplish in your life.  Note the qualities you’d like to have, skills you’d like to develop.  Then, itemize the things you’ll need to do to accomplish them.  If your goals are worth anything (to you, not me), I guarantee the things you itemize, the steps you determine necessary to accomplish those goals, will be difficult.  In fact, some may cause you anguish even thinking about them.  If you put ‘lose 20 pounds’ as your goal, the mere thoughts of ‘join a gym’ (I’ll have people looking at me) and “run twice per week; weight train twice per week’ (I hate working out) may, indeed, even cause physical reactions.  Similarly, “go to more networking events” as an itemized step for your goal of ‘get(ting) more comfortable meeting and talking to people’ may cause your palms to sweat.

All of this is natural.  And necessary.  The difference, I believe, between those who are ultimately successful in life and those who are just along for the ride is that the former accept this as a universal truth, a rite of passage, so to speak; while the latter see it solely as discomfort, something to be avoided at all cost.  Perhaps more appropriately compared to initiation into a fraternity, the difficulty of the challenges is what galvanizes those of us Addicted to Improvement, helping us to measure for ourselves just how important the goal is.  It is quickly learned, by those that continue down these sometimes painful paths toward dreams of self-actualization and improvement, that every step is not just a painful experience with no value, but something that brings us closer to these goals.  More importantly, we begin to learn- and take solace in- the fact that the further we go, the harder it is to turn back.  Think about it?  If your goal was to lose 50 pounds, would it be easier to quit your diet and fitness program if you’d already lost 10 pounds or 20?  20, of course.  So keep taking those steps! You’ll find each step builds upon the previous one, propelling you forward.

And that is the ‘secret’ of accepting, even appreciating, the demands that life presents.  Pick your dream, your goal.  And keep it.  Take each step in the journey one by one.  Expect the pain that will come, realizing that you are earning your right to own that dream- almost as if you were buying it.  You have to take the steps to get there. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a dream, right?  And when you arrive, you pay for it.  Not with money, but with the work you’ve put in, the obstacles you’ve overcome, the challenges you’ve faced and accepted.  In football, we call these blood, sweat, and tears.  And once you ‘pay for it’, it’s yours!

Back to the story I outlined earlier.  Okay, it is true that life doesn’t have to be hard.  It will always have challenges, though.  Always.  The difference is in how we view those challenges.  And as hard- and as counterintuitive- as it may be, I ask you to look upon these hurdles with fondness, realizing they are there to help.  Gravitate toward those challenges that will help you grow and accept that they will be uncomfortable.  In the end, if you run toward instead of fleeing from difficulties, you will look back on your life one day with amazement at how much you’ve accomplished.

As I’ll continue to note throughout my blog, I played football for a good part of my life.  As part of my football career, I developed an affinity for working out and training that still exists today.  I go to the gym three or four times per week, run and box for cardio, and get outside for some cross training (push-ups, sit-ups, stairs, you name it) every chance I get.  I like it for the stress it helps relieve (My wife has been known on occasion to say ‘Please, go to the gym!’).  I like it for the confidence it builds in me.  And I would be a fraud if I didn’t admit that I like how it makes me look in my suits (and Baby Gap shirts LOL).  But, more than anything, I like how it all relates to life, and to this topic of taking life step by step, of accepting its challenges.  And like with training, I try to remember one thing every time I encounter something in my life that is difficult or uncomfortable and tries to get in the way of my dream: You can’t get strong without lifting some weight!

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About bbluford
I am an executive finance professional with a love for process and application development (MS Access, Excel, Quickbooks), mostly as it relates to Accounting and Business Functions. I also love to write and share ideas with other people in this world. I'm an admitted Gym Rat who works out excessively. The best summation of me is that I love to teach and to learn.

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