Does overcoming personal hardship imply making a significant difference in the world?
When I think of people that make a big impact it seems that every one of them has overcome hardship.
Ok, maybe not everyone, but most.
I stop and ponder the motivation. The empathy and compassion these folks are tapped into isn’t fake, it’s real – they have a deep genuine desire to connect with those that are in need and improve their lives. Why? Because they personally have known the suffering. I don’t know if you know much about Tony Robbins, but in his latest book he talks about his childhood. Pretty rough stuff. And look what he’s doing now. Pretty phenomenal.
Then I reflect on my own life. By no means did I suffer greatly, but in my own way I had personal hardship. When I was about 6 years old, my parents went through some business challenges. I absorbed the financial stresses in the way a 6-year-old would and quickly learned not to ask for anything. For years I kept my resolve and kept quiet.
As a result of trying to feel in-control of what felt like an out-of-control environment with a harsh adolescent reality, I recognized I could control how I look. I might not have had the coolest clothes but I figured out I could have the thinnest and fittest body. Starting at age 15, I began to starve myself and obsess over the ingredients in everything. Without realizing it I began what would be an 10 year journey with anorexia, bulimia, exercise bulimia, orthorexia, deprivation, and exhaustion. These, among a few others, were my hardships.
And they made me the person I am today, in the field I’m in, doing the work I do. I wouldn’t trade it for anything or re-do any of it. Always on purpose, right? I am grateful.
But I’m left to wonder, if I had more hardship could I serve the world in a bigger way? And additionally, do I facilitate hardship for my kids so they truly embody gratitude and don’t turn out to be the self-absorbed shit-heads we see running around these days?
I don’t have an answer but my husband I and seriously considered moving to New Zealand right before we got pregnant with our second child. We were living a lush life and we knew that our first born, Aidan, would not suffer in the least. So how do we teach gratitude, the desire to earn, and to do well? We figured that in order to impart gratitude and humility we’d have to create a genuine hardship. And we’d ALL have to experience it. So why not leave everything we know and love and go start a new life abroad where we’re all forced to figure it out? We wouldn’t be able to guarantee certainty or comfort in our lives and for us that would be ample hardship.
But then we got pregnant with number two and created a new “hardship” by moving to Sacramento. We’re floating along, things come easily, life is joyful and abundant. But is this enough impetus to go and affect change in the world? I sure hope so. Eager to make a difference in the best way I can, I’ll keep diligently and passionately doing what I’m doing.
As I reflect on how my hardships have created the purposeful and meaningful life I now live today, I realize that I can just as easily see my current stressors as the fertilizer for the difference I make in the world. As I struggle with being present as a mom, trying to enjoy my kids as they whine incessantly, and sustain passion in my marriage, I see that in my daily “struggle” I am building the toolbox I need to show up as the human I am.
And that’s kinda cool. Rather than try to constantly figure out how to get rid of the stressors, I can see them all as gifts. Rather than fight them off like a ninja, I can work with them like a tai chi master. It shifts any default resistance I’m holding to gratitude, hope, and curiosity.
Awesome. So now not only can I believe that I am making a difference, but I can start believing that I’m a genius too. (The common trait among all geniuses is curiosity, right?:)
Hardship. What do you think? Did hardship make you the person you are? Would you have wanted more? Less? Let me know what your relationship is to hardship and if you think it’s required to serve the world in a big way.
Amy Eliza Wong is a life coach, writer, and speaker in the Sacramento, CA area committed to helping people figure out what makes them tick so they can finally live with joy and real purpose. Learn more about working with her.