How to respond to hardship


I don’t wish hardship on anyone.

But then again, I don’t need to; there’s enough of it to go around without me doing anything.

With that in mind, knowing that hardship, pain, and hurt are a necessary part of the human experience, how do we respond?

After plenty of all that in my own life, I’ve learned the answer isn’t so simple.

Don’t say uncle

When you stick your hand in an open flame or on a hot stove, your instinct is to take it away. In fact, as far as I can tell, this isn’t even a conscious decision; it happens before you even notice it.

And this makes sense, as there isn’t anything to be gained by keeping your hand there, and in fact, plenty to lose. The pain doesn’t benefit you in any way. It’s just pain.

But what about hardship, setbacks, unhappiness, and psychic pain? Is our response to be the same, to encounter it and then pull away as fast as possible?

Not so fast

I believe that hardship, while unpleasant, has a benefit to us, and must not be entirely eliminated. By confronting us with difficulty, it allows us to confront ourselves, to try harder, to learn about who we are.

Hardship, if we listen to it, allows us a kind of focus. When confronted by a psychic pain, one can certainly ignore it, and breeze through life hoping that it goes away. (Pro tip: It doesn’t.) But if we listen to the pain, it tells us where we need to dig in and learn, to think, to spend time.

Hardship can also teach us humility and grace. I don’t know if you’ve ever spent time around anyone who has had most things in life handed to them (though I caution that most people have had more hardship than they may let on), but I find that it is those who have gone through their own hell and come out on the other side that are the most decent, profound, perspicacious, and well-rounded individuals.

It is only when we sit with true hardship that we have the unique opportunity to figure out what is important to us, what makes us thrive and grow. And not just as a way to remove the hardship, though that is often a side benefit.

Don’t run away from the pain

I wish for you to resist the temptation to throw off the feelings of pain, sadness, and other forms of psychic malaise. Instead of running away, I want you ask, “what is this feeling telling me? What can I take from this?” Sit with it for a while, hold your breath and pinch yourself if necessary, and learn from it.

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Just broke up with a partner? Don’t immediately start dating again; sit with the feeling of loneliness and/or betrayal. What does the feeling tell you? How will you approach this situation the next time?

Lost a job? Before you put out some resumes, sit with the feeling of loss. Where does that feeling come from? Is it the loss of the ability to provide? Do you feel old? Was it your dream job? Could this be an opportunity to do something you’ve always wanted to do?

Finding no success in your creative endeavors? Is no one paying attention? Sit with the feeling and ask: what is important to you about success? Is it the money? Is it acceptance? Is this a sign that it’s time to alter/revisit your work in some way?

Make no mistake: it is incredibly difficult to do this. When pain becomes acute, we often will do anything to alleviate it. And I want you to do that as well. But not before learning something first, and growing in the process.

But enough about me. What is your response to hardship?

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