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Learning to Embrace Struggles

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As an entrepreneur, it often seems like the only constants in life are the challenges standing between you and your goals. These obstacles are things to be dreaded, leading only lead to stress, anxiety and self-doubt. At least, that's what we're conditioned to think, but it doesn't have to be the case.

History is littered with examples of people who have managed to overcome and thrive on the struggles they experience. Why is it that a select few seem to succeed where the rest of us fail time and time again? The answer lies in a thought expressed by a Roman emperor 1,800 years ago.

"The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way."
-Marcus Aurelius

Simply put, the struggles we face offer us a path to growth and success. It's a counter-intuitive concept to be sure, but it is perhaps the single most important concept that any entrepreneur can learn: how to embrace challenges.

Here are a few pointers:

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It's all in how you perceive things

I've taught myself to embrace and frankly adore the challenges that come my way, pushing to find the joy and opportunity in even the darkest of situations.

This sort of mindset was first introduced to by a successful relative. In his first leadership role, he found himself routinely frustrated and discouraged by the problems that seemed to constantly pop up. Expensive equipment frequently failed, employees caused problems and clients were always upset about one thing or another. He felt that he had a chance to be successful in his new role, but only if he could catch a break from all of the bad luck that seemed to come his way. After one particularly challenging period, however, he had an epiphany. He realized that the challenges he faced weren't bad luck after all. Instead, they were opportunities for him to prove himself and attain the success he sought. His entire mentality changed that day. Instead of dreading problems, he began to actively seek them out. "Where's the next problem?" became his personal mantra, and it became the basis for his entire business philosophy.

Today, I try to demonstrate that same spirit both at work and in my personal life. It's a belief that colors everything I do.

Practice, practice and practice some more.

The temptation to despair or blame others for things is often strong, but it can be overcome. The simple truth is that in any given situation, the only thing that you truly have control over is yourself. As difficult as it may seem, you always have the choice to recognize the obstacle for what it is, find something positive, and work like hell to push through it.

My own personal journey to this realization was not an easy one. As far back as I can remember, I've been prone to anxiety and worry. The prospect of the unknown or uncontrollable petrified me and prevented me from taking action. I always admired people who could keep their cool in the worst of situations, turning challenges into opportunities and emerging stronger than before. For the longest time, I thought that this was something innate: You were either born with it or not. The truth, of course, is that this grit is a learned behavior that can be refined over time.

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My lesson in developing grit started shortly after I graduated college. I took a job at a business valuation consultancy that had a unique corporate culture. By unique, of course, I mean toxic and frequently horrifying. It was, without a doubt, the most challenging time in my life. Every time I made an error or was belittled by partners, a part of me wanted to run. The temptation to quit was strong, but I forced myself to endure. I would leave the company, but only on my terms. I resolved to handle every insult, threat and stress that could be thrown at me with grit and determination. No one would control how I felt or responded. It wasn't easy, and I often fell short of my own expectations, but I didn't give up. I pushed myself more and more, and managed to stick it out long enough to gain skills that would serve me well in the future.

There's no secret formula

The only way to nurture grit and capitalize on the opportunities that challenges offer is to demonstrate an unshakable will to thrive. That's really all there is to it. It's both the easiest and most difficult thing in the world. You simply have to want it badly enough to constantly push forward. Will you fail at times? Absolutely. Will it be easy? Never. The only thing you can do is keep at it.

The challenges and problems we face in our lives represent the roadmap to greatness. Whether we choose to follow that map is up to us. There is no secret formula for success. The only thing you need is the will to confront your struggles, the desire to find the joy in even the darkest times, and the determination to keep moving forward no matter what.

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