How To Make Sense of Life’s Struggles

December 8th, 2013 by LaRae Quy

We love stories about underdogs who muster the mental toughness to beat the odds and emerge victorious. They provide encouragement that, we too, can pursue our passions and achieve success.

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Somehow it’s easier when someone else endures the never-ending life struggle so we can live vicariously through their experiences, safely from our armchair.

A favorite inspirational story of mine is about a ruthless con-artist, liar, thief, and manipulator who was full of fear and anxieties. Divested of all earthly possessions, he runs from his father-in-law and into the waiting arms of a brother who hates him.

Homeless on a riverbank, he is attacked and the violence is so intense that he is left crippled for life. He faces darkness, loneliness, exhaustion, and relentless pain.

The ancient book of the Bible tells us the man’s name was Jacob and his riverbank opponent was an angel. The question that immediately surfaces is: “Why would God create such pain and adversity?”

The question is answered by Jacob himself, who was transformed through this experience. Jacob finally understood that in real life, naive optimism and the desire for glamour is a recipe for despair and discontent.

Jacob’s transformation earned him a new name— Israel, because he prevailed over his struggles and carved out a tranquil existence in the midst of life’s turbulence.

Struggles force us to find our deepest name.

Struggles are rarely easy, but if we have mental toughness, we will not give up. Like Jacob, we will be transformed because we will do what we all must do when confronted with adversity—confront our failures, hurts, and pain.

Tough times and adversity have transformational powers. This is confirmed by new research that suggests struggles are essential to developing resilience, and that mental toughness, like a muscle, cannot develop without exercise but it will break down if overworked.

Here are 4 things to keep in mind when going through tough times:

1. Face Adversity, Don’t Avoid It 

The study cited above reflects how easy it is for you to take your good luck for granted. If you are not prepared for adversity when it comes, you have no tools with which to fight back. Not getting what you always want forces you to identify your core character strengths and personal values—information you might have otherwise over looked. Some things fall apart in life so that better things can fall together.

2. Expect the Deepest Pain To Empower You To Your Fullest Potential 

It’s not a pleasant thought, but very often it is the stressful choices that end up being the most worthwhile. Without pain, there would be no change. Just remember to learn from your pain and then release it.

3. Work Outside Your Comfort Zone 

Don’t be reluctant to accept a new responsibility or challenge because you don’t think you’re ready. It’s OK to acknowledge that you need additional information, skill, or experience but remember that no one is 100% ready when an opportunity arises. Most opportunities in life force us to grow, both emotionally and intellectually. They force us out of our comfort zone, and so it’s natural to feel uncomfortable at first.

Significant opportunities for personal growth and success will come and go through your lifetime. If you’re looking to build resilience and overcome adversity, you will need to embrace moments of uncertainty even though you don’t feel 100% ready for them.

4. Embrace the Lesson

Everything happens for a reason. Things go wrong so you can learn to appreciate things when they go right. Learn to embrace the lesson each opportunity has to teach you so you can recognize the circumstances surrounding those lessons the next time they show up.

We can choose to resist our struggles, or we can uncover the truest and deepest part of ourselves in the midst of them. Mental toughness is learning to confront not only the adversaries from our environment, but also the ones inside us.

What tips can you offer someone who is going through struggles? How have your struggles shaped you to become a better person?

© 2013 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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26 Responses to “How To Make Sense of Life’s Struggles”

  1. I think that another lesson we could learn is to have patience while we are going through the trials. That for me has always built up my mental toughness.

  2. Cindy Tansin says:

    LaRae – I love your subject matters. You get right to the heart of issues. I don’t think there are many people who have not gone through hardships in the past few years. When it happens, we have to make the hard choice – hunker down and get through it stronger and better than before or succumb. I like the first choice myself. Thank you for the thought-provoking post.

  3. Sebastian says:

    Adversity is the best thing ever, that’s how you grow. Imagine spending your early years in life facing as many obstacles as you can. You could be so wise and strong before you’re even 30.

  4. Terri Klass says:

    I have learned the most about myself and my abilities through struggle and misstep. Those important lessons have stayed with me for my entire life.

    I think we need to be prepared for what life has to offer and not just be “sitting ducks”. That is sometimes hard to do but worth thinking of ways to keep our minds and bodies strong.

    I love your biblical story of struggle and “aha”, LaRae!

    Loved the post!

  5. Vivien says:

    Thank you for the great post. I wish I could read this and understand it about 5 years ago, but like you’ve mentioned, everything happens for a reason. The importance is whether we learned through our mistakes and moved on instead of being paralyzed and stay numb from the pain. I would want to save this article and read it again.

  6. Lolly Daskal says:

    Strength is born in the deep silence of long-suffering hearts; not amidst joy.

    Thanks for this very powerful POST.

    I want everyone to read it. An important read!


  7. My suggestion would be to not run from the struggle. Run into the struggle so you can run through it. It’s difficult but well worth the energy spent. Plus the struggle is lessened when we go against it.

  8. Another key is to keep your eyes on our vision / purpose. Our current circumstances have a way of sucking in our vision so that all we see is the struggle. From there it is easy to fall in the trap of living day to day. If we can see that there still is life beyond the pain, that vision will help provide the motivation we need to press on.

  9. Bill Benoist says:

    Your post reminded me of the story of Victor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor who wrote that no one can take away from us our ability to chose our attitude. In the dire face of adversity living in the concentration camps, he never allowed the guards to take his freedom to choose his attitude. It will always remain our choice as to how we will perceive a circumstance.

    Thanks for a great post, LaRae!

  10. I just love this post!

    No one wants to go through these hard times, but we do learn more during the storm. It’s an opportunity to learn what really matters, draw on your spiritual strength, and depend on others. For some of us, who don’t like to depend on anyone else, that is an incredible journey. And yet one that is well worth it.

    Ultimately the struggle is part of the human experience, and we can better relate to others around us as we go through suffering.

    All that said, I am hoping for more sunny than stormy days ahead!

    • LaRae Quy says:

      So well said, Skip: “Ultimately the struggle is part of the human experience, and we can better relate to others around us as we go through suffering.”

      We are meant to struggle, and through those struggles find meaning for our life.

      But I’m with you…let hope for more sunny days than stormy ones!

  11. Jon Mertz says:

    Finding that inner strength is so essential in times of challenge. i believe that inner strength comes from cultivating it through good relationships, good community, and a healthy dose of self-awareness. As challenging as it is though, difficult times do teach us important lessons; we just need to listen and do something with them.

    Appreciate your insights highlighted here. Jon

  12. Karin Hurt says:

    When we’re faced with adversity, it’s tempting to feel sorry for ourselves and dispair. When we can step back to feel our growing, the adversity takes on an empowering undertone that actually makes us stronger. Great post.

    • LaRae Quy says:

      I am the same way, Karin…I am so tempted to feel sorry for myself and assume that no one has the same load of problems that I do – but that is so wrong! We all have struggles. Some of us are better at hiding them than others, that’s all.

      Have a great day!

  13. LaRae,

    You opened this post with a hook about Jacob/Israel – those stories mean so much more to me now because of where I live. Then you focused on a point I’ve been writing about too – the purpose in the pain. The blessing in the midst of the shock and the awe. Thank you!

    Tips for someone in the midst of a struggle: Focus on what you have instead of what you don’t, count your blessings. Thankfulness brings light and hope to darkness and pain.

    Struggles have taught me that there is purpose in the pain, that it is possible to emerge from intense pain softer, wiser and stronger. That like cancer – I would not wish the pain on anyone, but I would not give up the beauty that came out of that time.

    • LaRae Quy says:

      Chery, I love your tip: “Focus on what you have instead of what you don’t, count your blessings.”

      This is so true! It’s the single best way to stay positive when things are hard. I think it also creates a sense of humility in us as we no longer take things for granted.

      Thank you, Chery!

  14. Alli Polin says:

    Struggles tend to call forth my most creative self. Instead of giving in, I think… how am I going to get through this? What needs to happen? We can either be powerless against our struggles or powerful and the choice is up to us.

    I’ve faced a lot of struggles though which people ask me “Why aren’t you falling apart? Are you really OK.” I figure it’s all about our perspective. One thing that’s helped me immensely is stated so simply and powerfully by you: Just remember to learn from your pain and then release it.

    Really fantastic insights here, LaRae. Will be sharing widely!

    • LaRae Quy says:

      That one little sentence: “Just remember to learn from your pain and then release it” is probably one of the most important sentences I’ve ever written. If you don’t learn from your adversity and pain, you are doomed to endure it again because if you don’t “get it” the first time around, you’ll be unprepared for it when it comes around again.

      And each time it does, we’re smarter about it IF we’ve put in the effort to learn from those past experiences.

      I, for one, have had to learn some lessons that I NEVER want to have to learn again! Haha…

      Take care, Alli! I appreciate you and your perspective!

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