Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light.John Milton, Paradise Lost
Here again. Dissatisfied and feeling down. Another job, another bad boss. The hopes of something new quickly fading amid the realities of expectations, workload, long hours, and the struggle to get ahead on too little money. The thrill of the promotion soon feels empty as the sense of a win disappears and the daily grind takes its place, consuming energy, enthusiasm, and hope. Quickly following fading hopes are the telltale physical struggles: no appetite, persistent intestinal discomfort, and the paralyzing anxiety that accompanies them.
Why do we keep playing the same game? Why do we struggle? Why does this happen? With the sense of hopelessness that comes from the difficult job situation comes the blame. The stupid boss who doesn’t get it. The faceless company that doesn’t care. The indifferent customers who assault with their unreasonable expectations. The collection of equally unhappy compatriots fighting the same battle and unhappily riding along on the complaint train.
The typical answer? Quit and repeat. Strangely, changing the landscape frequently doesn’t change the result. Why? Because the person is still the same. The scenario above often leads to seeing yourself as a victim. A victim of circumstance. A victim of a society that doesn’t care. A victim of a cold, heartless world. A victim of a game with the cards stacked against you. If only…
Guess what? We all struggle. Everyone. Even those we see as wildly successful struggled and continue to struggle in some way. The “game” is not easy. The rules change. The players change. The landscape changes. The world does not sit still and we are all moving across its dynamic surface. The first mistake we make is thinking that there should be no struggle. That edge is where we grow. Pushing ourselves up against those forces moving with and against us helps us grow…if we let it.
Finding Self Compassion
Frequently, a side effect of struggle is self-doubt and then some form of self-loathing. Make no mistake, we blame everything around us. However, deep down, we also blame ourselves. In this place, it is often a short trip to the bottom. Here, we find the self-fulfilling cycle of negative expectations and the myriad behaviors following which ensure we stay mired in our difficulties. Stupid boss? I quit. Long hours with a heavy workload? Take this job and shove it! Weakened, hurting, and doubting, we scan job ads that never play out looking for something better even as we are forced to take the same or worse to pay our bills.
There is a generation of working age adults living in the subsistence existence above. Hating their jobs. Hating their lives. Hating those who thrive. All the while, mostly hating themselves. They hate themselves because they know they are allowing themselves to live this way. They hate themselves because they know they are better than this. They hate themselves because they know they could do better if they were willing to muster the will to do it. Exist long enough in this rut and the habit will feel like concrete.
Where do we find redemption? Alas, only we can provide it to ourselves. Struggling? That’s ok. Frustrated? That’s ok. Disappointed? That’s ok. Blown it time and again? That’s ok as well. The only important thing is what’s next. The next decision. The next choice. Next begins with forgiveness. Perhaps the hardest of all: forgiveness of self. All the stumbling, bumbling, and falling that has led to this place. All that matters is your next move. Wipe the slate clean and begin again. And again. And again.
If you’re too stuck to forgive yourself, do something that demonstrates worthiness. Penance comes in many forms. Give of yourself. Find a win. Small and insignificant is ok. Just walk forward in some fashion. Any fashion. On the other side, you will begin to like yourself again. Act like someone you might like. Be someone you can like.
The thing you were right about all along? Yes, it’s your fault. Yes, your decisions led you to where you are. Yes, you stumbled and fell. That’s ok. It is all yours. This life. Those choices. They brought you where you are supposed to be. They brought you to this moment. They brought you to your next choice. It is yours. You have the power to choose. You live in a place with infinite possibilities. Perhaps that’s part of the problem. That’s ok. You just need one.
Wait, you say. Things happened to me. It’s not my fault. Does it really matter? How did you respond? What did you do? They are still yours. Even facing the things we can’t control, we still have accountability. Did you ask for it or deserve it? Maybe not, but those are the wrong questions. What will you do about it?
In the midst of struggle, we want to blame. Blame for a moment. Then, step away. Look broadly at your life, your neighborhood, your city, and your world. Possibility lies in the broad view brought to the narrow. Go broad. If there was no one left to blame and it was all yours, where would you go? Too big? That’s ok, you only need one small step.
You have one life but many chances. The struggles will come. Will you wilt? Will you run? Will you own it? Still stuck in your own head? Make a small change. Where do you spend your time? Spend it differently. Do you wander social media perpetually? Stop. Do you play games or watch TV for hours each day? Stop. Do you abuse drugs or alcohol? Stop. Replace the destructive with something constructive. Rebuild yourself one positive movement at a time. Can’t get there yourself? Then recruit someone else to help you. Or better yet, recruit yourself to help someone else.
All Around You
Believe it or not, there are others around you who care. There are those who are cheering for you. There are those who would do anything they possibly could to help. Yeah, I know, that’s the last place you want to go. Perhaps they were part of the problem. Perhaps they failed too. If you can’t forgive yourself, maybe you start with them. Our big, busy world makes it easy to feel alone when we struggle. Almost none of us have to stay there if we will make a choice to allow others to walk with us. Sure, you may still be angry. True, they may not understand. But maybe, just maybe, they are exactly what you need right now.
It’s yours. All of it. So own it. Choose to see possibility. Choose to see goodness. Choose to see yourself thriving, however you may define it. Then go thrive. There is only one point we will all reach at which all struggle will end. Until that day, choose to struggle well. Along the way, you will find that you truly lived.