As we make our way through life, we will face unforeseen obstacles. Just when you feel you have a handle on life, something crops up to throw you off balance. Occasionally, we all feel like curling ourselves into a ball and wish we could hide away from life.
In school, we quickly learn that there is a pecking order and some of our classmates are more fortunate than us while (to our great relief) there are others who are even worse off than we are. However, when we look closer into people’s lives, we realize that everyone faces suffering. We tend to idealize the rich and famous and fantasize that if we only had a million pounds in the bank, our lives would be perfect. The reality is our minds inevitably focus on the one thing that is not right.
Regardless of our station in life we will all experience setbacks and losses, heartbreak, and uncertainty. When we experience difficulties, our natural response is to avoid it. However, by trying to run away from our challenges, we only prolong it.
During my many years as a lecturer, I have met students who have been swimming in deep waters and have faced family, health, or work challenges. Once, as I was preparing for an evening course one of my students walked in looking distraught. He had a nervous disposition and, on this day, looked even worse. When I smiled at him, he told me that he had just been made redundant. As he had been distracted over the previous weeks, he was finding his Advanced Tax studies overwhelming. He wanted to give up as it was getting too much for him as the exam was just several weeks away. I explained to him that his employer had already paid for his courses and despite his state of mind, studying for the exam would give him a focal point.
This student of mine stuck with it. I wish I could tell you that he passed his Advanced Tax exam immediately, but the reality was that he failed. He had not mastered his mind and the stress of what he was going through made it difficult for him to concentrate. After the exam, he reached out to me and we put a plan of action together that he could work on even before the results came out. He stuck with it while he was hunting for a new job and unsure how he would pay his bills and support his young family. It took him two further attempts before he passed his Advanced Tax exam, but the experience made him a better man. I celebrated his exam success with him because I knew how much it meant to him.
When faced with a challenge, we must learn to confront it head on. Feel the pain and face the discomfort. Do not run away from it. This is your life. Only you can live it. Your hardship can be a source of growth and transformation.
This concept is captured by the metaphor, ‘No mud, no lotus.’
The lotus plant begins its life in the muddy water below the surface of the pond. Over time, the pod pushes its way through the murky darkness and eventually bursts through the surface of the water into the sunlight. The lotus then unfurls its petals and reveals its stunning beauty.
Just like the lotus, we also have to push through our own suffering in order to find our true selves. As you fight through adversity, it toughens your spirit and in the words of one of my motivational heroes, David Goggins, it ‘callouses the mind’.
So, when the next challenge comes (and it will come), you will be better prepared to withstand the storm.