“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”
I think sometimes it is tempting to become too grandiose or melodramatic when it comes to motivational quotes. Take the one above as a good example of this. I think there is a temptation to picture the trial and suffering as some titanic battle against overwhelming odds. But, and forgive me for saying it so bluntly, that's just plain silly.
Helen wasn't meaning those ‘end of the world moments’ that crop up but rarely in our lives. She was simply meaning the normal stuff that life throws up at us.
Very few people swan through life without challenges. And no money doesn't solve everything; I know some very rich people and when you look past their money, you realise they have a whole bag full of issues that make them unhappy; just like everyone else.
Everyone has challenges, normal everyday obstacles that stand between who they are and who they want to be. Whether it is the personal agony of sticking to a new diet or the more public challenge of taking on a new role these are the real moments that make or break us.
Many people accept these challenges but take them too lightly. A new diet is held for a week or two but then abandoned, gym memberships skyrocket in January but by March attendance is down to average levels and new job roles are often started with enthusiasm and then continued through routine rather than passion or vigour.
Now we all know that such a pattern of behaviour is very common and normal. Indeed I would go as far as to guess that everyone reading this has an example of this from their own life - I know I certainly do. So what's the answer? How can we do better?
Drawing on Helen’s quote I think we would all do better if we took on those experiences that challenge us, that cause us some 'trial and suffering' and instead of shying away from the trial and suffering we focus on what those experiences were teaching us.
I think the best path forward is to accept, before we start, that it's going to be hard. Accept that these new experiences are going to make us suffer and doubt ourselves, and frankly make us wonder why we started in the first place.
With that acceptance of the rocky path ahead we should then look for what we can learn from the obstacles. If we expect that obstacles and challenges will lie ahead of us then when they arise we can greet them with a different mind-set; one of prepared acceptance rather than surprised irritation.
And that prepared acceptance should give us the perspective to review and consider our options before making a decision. During that reflection the real learning can happen. And the learning can be two-fold – first about ourselves and how we cope with these challenges and secondly about the nature of the challenges themselves.
And hopefully that period of reflection will result in us making better choices.
Let me give you a real example - I met a salesman recently who has a problem with alcohol. Once he’s had one drink he finds it virtually impossible to stop from having several more. If he doesn’t start he’s fine.
Now he’s working hard on avoiding alcohol but the day I met him he’d felt obliged to have a beer over lunch with his boss. By the time I met him in the evening he’d had significantly more to drink than he’d wanted, or planned to have that day.
He hadn’t expected his boss to order beer at a business lunch and not having anticipated it he didn’t have time to reflect on the best way to avoid, what was for him, the wrong path.
He was feeling bad about being unable to hold to his path of abstinence and very down about the whole experience and he talked a lot about how difficult stopping drinking was.
It seems to me that he’s had one of those experiences that he can learn and grow from. He can take this slip and plan to deal with at least one of the challenges that faces him – drinking out of feelings of misplaced obligation.
That day, which at the time felt like a disaster, could become a valuable moment of self-learning and growth.
Maybe the day will help him more clearly see his vision for himself, inspire him to greater efforts and thus more likely bring about the success he seeks.
And let us all look ahead and embrace our challenges so that we can develop further, strengthen our character and ultimately achieve more.
Until next time;
Photo by Pirosca Marcel, graphic designer and photographer, used with thanks. www.pirosca.com
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