All of us have those people in our lives who inspire us with the stories of their tenacity and strength. They seem to have navigated their way through life with more obstacles than many of us could comprehend. One of those people in my life…a source of quiet strength…is my mom. As many of you know, I have written quite a bit about my dad probably mostly due to the fact that he provided such rich work-life stories through the years to react to in my writing. But, my mom has some significant stories on her own. Mom emigrated from Switzerland in the ’60s after graduating with a business degree at the University. Both of her parents had passed away separately in the two years prior. My aunts and uncle were still there for her, but little else. She had always wanted to come to the US and, at the age of 22, came over as a nanny to learn and become fluent in English. She ended up in Dallas working in sub-optimal conditions, with very little in the way of worldly possessions, and having only one friend from her home country in the same situation. She worked long hours and was determined to stay. She soon married, had me, divorced, and became a single mother. She wasn’t a citizen and had no safety net.
Mom eventually remarried, moved to the country, became a citizen, had six children, and was a rock for all of us growing up. She dearly loved her home country and was often homesick, but she also loved and was grateful to her adopted country. In a way, she was like a square peg in a round hole because there was no one like her in our small farming community. She looked, dressed, cooked, and spoke differently. She worked harder than anyone I knew and never complained a bit. She always pushed us to be our best, to be respectful, to work hard, and be independent. To this day, you can find her out in her yard pulling weeds in the garden, painting the fence, walking her dog, mowing her yard, and redecorating her house. She is a dynamo. But she had a struggle through all of those years and much of it was silent. I would say this was especially true in the last few years losing family and friends…but, especially my dad’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease. In the end, my mom had a goal that was selfless – raise 6 kids to be good, productive citizens. She did that, but it was a long road and she had to have a lot of courage and be incredibly persistent. If you stop for a moment and reflect you probably have many people in your life who maybe had a different trajectory, but a similar struggle. Have you ever asked them how they persevered? My mom would say, “What’s the alternative?”
A few years ago, I read a book entitled “The Secret Art of Not Giving a Flip (sic)…A Counter-intuitive Approach to Living the Good Life”. In this book, there is an interesting concept that I find to be both inspirational and relevant to this discussion. The premise is that, as leaders, we must be intentional about what we are willing to struggle for to reach our goals. We all would like to believe that we can live an amazing, fulfilling life free of stress and struggle. The truth is we cannot live a struggle-free life and the sooner we realize that the quicker we will be able to direct our energy in a conscious way to those endeavors we most want to accomplish in both our personal and professional lives.
And let’s not kid ourselves here…the last 18 months have been brutal on all of us. We, essentially, have been in survival mode attempting to keep our family safe, working incredibly hard at our day jobs, trying to stay financially solvent, and hopefully finding a few moments of joy here and there. Now is the time that we might falter and throw our hands up in the air and whisper to ourselves – I’m too exhausted and burned out to fight for more. I would argue that now is the time to push through. You have learned so much in the past several months and the growth that you might not even realize you have will help you break through to your goals.
I will bet you that if you ask the person next to you right now “What do you want out of life?” they will say something like “I want to be happy and have a great life.” That is our automatic go-to answer. However, it is also a very safe, lazy answer, way too easy and means absolutely nothing. A much more interesting and reflective question is “What am I willing to struggle for?” “What pain am I willing to endure to get to my end goal?”
Here are some examples that illustrate this point:
1. Most people want a great physique. But you don’t end up with one unless you go to bed early, set your alarm every morning for 5:45 a.m., hit the gym by 6:15, and burn up 500 – 750 calories a day.
2. Some of us dream of owning our own business, making a difference in the world, and make good money doing it. But, not many people want to suffer through sixty-hour workweeks, have months stressing about making payroll, endure repeated failures and yet continue to appreciate the risk.
3. All of us can say that we want meaningful relationships with our family members and friends. But, to have those types of relationships you have to get through knowing what you want, investing in others, having those tough conversations, and ultimately gambling that it will be reciprocated.
Happiness requires struggle. It grows out of the solving of problems. Joy is not rainbows and unicorns it is earned through the intentional choosing and managing of our struggles. If you want victory you must fight. If you want results you must endure the process. If you want the reward you must be resilient.
Who you are is defined by what you are willing to struggle for. Get clarity on what pain you are willing to take on to get to that goal. It will light a fire under you because what you are doing is with purpose. You will be focused, determined, and able to achieve your goals. Remember, the struggle you’re in today is developing the grit you will need tomorrow. Don’t give up!