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To Be More Awesome Than You Were Before, You Need to Struggle

My flight back from New York City late this summer was a five-hour-and-change mission. I could’ve read or opened up my laptop, but I had had an exhausting week running all over Manhattan for meetings. The last thing I wanted to do was use more brain power. So I did what any other person who typically has trouble sleeping on planes would do: watch a movie with crappy earbuds.

I decided on Little Miss Sunshine. I had heard good things about it, and I wasn’t disappointed. The movie was fun and heart-warming. But there’s one particular scene that had really struck a cord with me. In it Paul Dano, who played a typical troubled and angst-filled teenager, says that he wishes he could just go to sleep to skip out on his years of high school. His scholarly uncle, played by Steve Carrell, brings up French novelist Marcel Proust and tells Dano:

“All those years [Proust] suffered — those were the best years of his life because they made him who he was. All the years he’s happy — you know, total waste. Didn’t learn a thing. So if you sleep until you’re 18, think of the suffering you’re going to miss.”

You can watch the full poignant scene here:

Carrell is right.

If all the things we ever wanted in life — happiness, getting the hot guy (or gal), becoming so sexy that we get turned on by our own reflection in the mirror, and gettin’ rich — went as smooth as a waxed dome, were devoid of struggles, and lined with tulips and rainbow-colored unicorn foods, life would be soooo awesome, wouldn’t it?

You’d think so. But…”think of the suffering you’d miss out on!”

Life without suffering and hardships might be seem nice or even be the end-goal, but life would  also become damn boring and meaningless. Why do you think that even the most pleasant fairy tales start off with conflict and periods of struggles and epic dragon fight scenes? It’s so that the “happily ever after” result is that much sweeter.

Without suffering, we don’t appreciate what we go through.

A quirk about us: We actually value the things we work hard for and earn. Even though “FREE” can make us scramble faster than someone yelling “HOT CAKES!”, we don’t value free or easy, though we tend to think we’d want free and easy. Just compare how you feel about a t-shirt you got for free at a convention versus a shirt you had paid $200 for. I’d bet you wouldn’t use that $200 shirt as your pajamas or to wash your car.

Free and easy are just things we take for granted.

I think back to my days as a hardcore video gamer and my days at IGN.com. I distinctly remember my stubborn and irrational need to overcome any gaming challenges, which were often punctuated by hissy fits and tantrums. Persistence was a crucial trait for me, especially since I wrote strategy guides and had to see victory firsthand before I can show anyone else how they can too.

If you’ve never picked up a video game in your life, gaming is a diabolical merry-go-round involving self-inflicted punishment (Game Over) and reward (no Game Over). When the going gets tough or you get stumped by an impossible puzzle, frustration is probably the weakest word to describe that temporary feeling of helplessness.

But when the victory music sounds off after you beat the snot out of a boss, your character levels up and all those lights surround him or her, or you triumph over that one spot that kept killing your character over and over, all of those fire up the pleasure centers in your brain as if you’d just cashed in the big jackpot at a slot machine.

The pain of struggling is real. It’s easy to hate on it while we are in its throes. I’d always swear to quit and never pick up the controller again, but when I’d somehow squeak my way to victory the feeling of having overcome that struggle would magically make me forget all of that resentment and bitterness and tantrum-throwing.

In fact, many of my fondest memories were from those moments of intense struggling and cursing. These days when I play games on “easy mode” to save time it’s just not the same. It feels less rewarding. And just…pointless.

Of course, life isn’t a video game. But we can start to view our struggles as necessary to be able to go all in to bettering ourselves every day. The challenges, the setbacks, and all that good ol’ suffering that we, in those moments, wish would disappear actually help turn us into someone we’d all be like, “Yeah, I fucking kicked ass.”

Put it another way: if you were 100% happy and everything had an easy button, would you ever push yourself to grow, to improve, or to get just 1% better than you were before?

If things were so easy, think of all the suffering you’d miss out on. How terrible! No one talks about or remembers the easy stuff.

So whatever you’re struggling with and wherever you are in life, enjoy it. Chances are, you won’t be able to relive that exact moment or stage in life again.

To grow is to struggle.

You can hate it and wish things could be different or happen much more quickly, but you and I both know that when you persist and come out the other side, you become an awesome-r person.

…damn, there’s your motivational pep-talk.

So go get shit done, even if you hate to struggle or have no idea what you’re doing.

Featured image by Ewan Cross.

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