How do you really grow as a human being? You’ve grasped your potential. You know where to point your compass. You can overcome fear and obstacles along the way. But that’s still not enough. The obstacles will get bigger and more challenging as you progress to bigger goals. They’ll come in different shapes and sizes and challenge different parts of your being… physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. You need to “be someone special” to fulfill those lofty goals. How do you suck it up when the going gets really tough?
It’s time to really challenge yourself and to learn to love who you become as a result. You can’t be truly uncommon until you do.
Humans grow through challenge, whether know it, like it or not. Leaving unhealthy habits and desires, replacing them with stronger habits and healthy desires, is painful. You have to embrace the suck.
Embracing the suck redefines your relationship with pain. You will learn to appreciate the pain that’s temporary and good for you. You will learn to avoid self-induced suffering that doesn’t lead to growth or new learning. You will differentiate between growth pain and destructive pain.
It’s no mystery that many desires and activities that bring short-term pleasure, result in long-term pain. When faced with those choices, you need to play opposite day. Associate pain with short-term pleasures that produce long-term harm, and pleasure with short term pain that creates long-term growth. Consider the short term pleasure of deserts, junk food, alcohol, drugs, gossip, and negative people. Can any good come of those over time? Of course not. Can you embrace the suck of avoiding them?
At the same time, learn to embrace things that bring temporary pain but minimize long-term suffering or promote long-term pleasure in the form of personal growth. Hard physical exercise is a no-brainer. It works to make you physically, mentally and emotionally stronger… but it is painful in the short term. Learning to love silence is another. It’s hard for distracted minds to learn to love silence, but if you embrace there suck of the challenge you will reap huge mental and emotional rewards. Each time you challenge yourself through something painful, your strength, perseverance, and fulfillment grow.
Be a True Philosopher
“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.” ― Seneca
Many people think that philosophy is just a mental joyride into lofty thinking. In reality, it was always a code of conduct for how to live a whole and good life. And it is easy to mistake philosophy for religion if you have not studied it in depth (one of my favorite things to do these days for some reason!). Let’s look at a few.
We mentioned Stoicism in the first topic of this lesson. This is a philosophy from ancient Greece that has found some fans today. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is a great read. My friend Ryan Holiday has created a web community called The Day Stoic to promote this philosophy of austerity to develop resolute courage and determination. Stoicism promotes the pursuit of exercise, restrained speech, moderated food intake, as well as reason and virtue in relationships. The goal is to learn to live purposefully and be whole. Sounds a bit like what we have been exploring in this book.
The philosophy of Patanjali, the enlightened Yoga sage of India, introduces us to disciplines and restraints that promote personal growth. These are practices that lead to ethical living and personal excellence. Peacefulness, seeking truth, not hoarding, moderation and non-attachment help the practitioner develop higher mental qualities to live in balance with others and nature. Pure living, contentment, hard work, and self-study while serving something higher than yourself, lead one to spiritual awakening.
Then there are the Christian philosophies embracing similar ideals of moderation and self-restraint. The Book of James in the Bible says to “rejoice when you experience various trials and tribulations, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” This notion of embracing the challenge for the sake of personal growth is clearly not a new idea. But, as evidenced by the way the average person runs away from challenges, and our mass consumer drive to make everything easy, this is a philosophy challenging to embrace in today’s culture of weakness.
You can make the argument that things are different now. There are too many things vying for your attention in our modern world. Those philosophies were for a different era. And to be fair, it is way too easy to find immediate gratification with smartphones, augmented reality and social media. The crush of tech and commitments is a real challenge for everyone, including me. We’re heading into new territory, where society’s advancements are overwhelming us with constant distraction, click-through pleasure, and instant gratification.
We have to face this new reality that we will always live in a distracted world where the pursuit of wisdom is uncommon. Good! That should provide even more motivation to you. There is more opportunity and fresh air at the altitudes that others won’t climb to. You can skim the surface and satisfy yourself with those sirens seductively slinking at every corner. Or you can go to the suck and double down on this principle. Don’t take this lightly, it will define who you are for the rest of your life. Is it time to embrace the suck now, so you can embrace the suck forever? No matter how successful you are, you will need to learn to love challenge, and to focus deeply on challenging work.