Difficult times forge strong character, but that doesn’t make enduring hardship any easier. Humans are predisposed to avoid hardship and run away from uncertainty. However, the elements that we fear are the same ones that forge. They forge character, resilience, decision making and all those “things” that ultimately separates winners from losers.
Just think of the brattiest, most spoiled little rich kid you know. He’s spoiled because he hasn’t learned how to deal with failure (not getting his own way). The only way to better manage failure is by failing and learning from it.
Much like you don’t get any stronger by “wishing” yourself to the gym -- I’ve tried, it doesn’t work -- you don’t become more resilient, more disciplined, or more mentally tough by avoiding difficult tasks or taking the easy way out.
Here are three instances that truly give hardship meaning:
1. Pushing through the moment.
You don’t become more self-disciplined by ceding to “easy.” Every difficult moment is an opportunity to push your pain threshold-- physically, mentally and emotionally -- to the next level, and that’s the secret to success.
Success isn’t something you “attain” or achieve, it’s the route you take to get there and how much difficulty you’re willing to endure. Here’s one way to push through the moment: respond rather than react. Knee-jerk reactions are natural, especially when somebody says something that makes you want to throw them out a window. Don’t do it -- for a number of legal reasons. Instead, take a breath and make a conscious choice about your next move.
Whatever you do, don’t retreat. There’s a time and place to surrender, but doing so when you’re emotionally charged isn’t one of them.
2. Repeating the moment.
We all have to do things we don’t like. That’s life. However, repeating those unwanted instances is a test in character.
I remember a particular two-mile ocean swim in BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL training) better than the rest because I learned something, and it wasn’t the fact that I no longer enjoyed swimming -- I had learned that many months prior.
In BUD/S there are weekly timed evolutions -- a two-mile ocean swim, a four-mile run and an obstacle course -- that serve as the standards. If you’re not progressing, or if you don’t make the cutoff time, then you’re given a second chance -- maybe. If you don’t pass the second time, you’re dropped from the course altogether.
One student (who I’ll creatively refer to as Smith) was a historically slow swimmer. One day the seas were especially rough, but unfortunately, sympathy doesn’t exists in BUD/S. The standards didn’t budge. Smith failed the swim. Instead of making up the swim on a later date, the instructors told him he needed to make it up immediately. If he didn’t pass, he would be dropped from the course.
Think about this situation for a moment. Smith needed to pass the same two-mile ocean swim that he had just failed. The sea state hadn’t changed. Nothing else changed besides how Smith chose to tackle it the second time. He didn’t have to like repeating the swim, he just had to do it. What he learned was to exhaust the moment, every moment, and never show up less than what you are capable of showing up as.
3. Reflecting back on the moment.
A startup is a great place to be from. You learn a lot about yourself, about entrepreneurship and how businesses and relationships work but, boy, is it tumultuous. There are times when you wonder how you’re going to survive, how you’ll get your name out there or whether anybody even cares.
At the same time, if you were to reflect on where you are today to where you were last month, last quarter, last year, I guarantee there have been significant learning takeaways that have melded you into who you are today as an entrepreneur and as an individual. Save those moments. When you’re in a “valley,” refer back to those instances to summit the next peak.
Hardship has its place. If hardship didn't exist then neither would easy. You wouldn't recognize easy if you didn't know what suffering is. Use it to your advantage.