Here’s a quick tip for you: Life is hard. Life will never stop being hard. The type of hardships will change, but they will continue to persist from birth until death.
No matter the path you choose, life will continue to be hard.
Running is hard; heart disease is hard.
Quitting smoking is hard; getting lung cancer is hard.
Losing weight is hard; carrying excess weight is hard.
Repairing a friendship is hard; losing a friendship is hard.
Asking a girl out is hard; being alone on Friday night is hard.
Staying married is hard; being divorced is hard.
Sexual intimacy is hard; dead bedroom is hard.
Having kids is hard; being childless is hard.
Being a working mom is hard; being a stay-at-home mom is hard.
Learning is hard; ignorance is hard.
Getting a new job is hard; staying in a job you hate is hard.
Committing to a career is hard; drifting without ambition is hard.
Getting a college degree is hard; being without one is hard.
Paying off debt is hard; being in debt is hard.
Being a one-car family is hard; having a car payment is hard.
Being organized is hard; being disorganized is hard.
Getting to bed on time is hard; not getting enough sleep is hard.
Doing the right thing is hard; doing the wrong thing is hard.
In life, you get to choose your hard.
What we see from the list above and personal experience is that in our efforts to avoid hardship, we often create hardship. When we avoid tough conversations, actions, and behaviors, we oftentimes create much more difficult situations.
There’s no such thing as standing still. There’s no such thing as not pursuing your goals. You are either pursuing them or their dark counterpart with each action and decision you make. Life is movement. And because life is movement, stasis is impossible. Decay and entropy constantly erode and eat away those things that currently exist.
Rust is not just a reaction between iron and oxygen. Rust is iron and oxygen and time. Oftentimes we only see the short term hardships when making decisions. It’s easy for me to not go on a run today. And tomorrow. And the next day. But what I’m choosing by not exercising is much, much harder than exercising. But because I choose this over the course of, say, thirty years, it’s easy to make the decision to avoid all pain now. Time hides and covers the true effect of today’s actions, though at some point I must settle up.
The beauty of life is not that life is pain-free or easy. The beauty of life is found in the choice of selecting which hardships are worthy of your effort to pursue. You don’t get to choose to opt out of hardship. Instead, you get to choose which set of hardships are the most worthy of the brief amount of time you have on this earth.
Often goal-driven and ambitious people find themselves mistakenly believing that they will have short-term struggle and, as compensation, avoid long-term struggle. So, delayed gratification becomes the mantra. “Live like no one else, so later you can live like no one else.” We sacrifice, we skimp, we save, we work, we hustle, we study, and we fight. We often do so with the mistaken belief that once we get over this one hurdle or obstacle, things will become easier. Often, the exact opposite happens: We accomplish our goals and things get much harder the next go around.
Mythologically, the Hydra is a multi-headed serpent. When one head of the Hydra gets chopped off, several more will sprout back in its place. In the same way, every time we reach our goals, we find that we have several new obstacles and challenges that have hopped back in its place. If you’ve ever graduated from college (a goal), you know what this is like, as you stare at dozens of job opportunities on Monster.com (an appropriately named website if ever there was one).
Thus, whether you simply choose to do nothing, or you aggressively pursue your goals, you will inevitably find that at every point struggle and hardship surrounds you. You cannot opt out or wish your way out of this, as this is the natural state of the world. The massive technological advancements in the last century did not yield a pain and carefree life. Similarly, an attempt to opt out of pain and hardship will be futile. The only questions that remain are the types of struggle you will grapple with, the time you will spend on them, and the degree to which we let those struggles shape our lives.
When choosing your struggle, you should pursue the one that will yield the greatest amount of joy over the longest amount of time in your life. We have a natural tendency to avoid pain and pursue pleasure. But when we avoid all pain we don’t get pleasure: We get some sort of hell. When you are in doubt about which hardship you should pursue, you should pursue the one that, if pursued every day, will maximize your joy over the long-run (Note: I did not say to pursue pleasure over the long-run, as pleasure is most often subjected to dopamine regulatory controls that decrease its sensation over time and is thus a fairly lame goal).
May your life not be easy or painless. May it be difficult and challenging. May it be rewarding and fulfilling, as each effort brings you to a new challenge and obstacle to be overcome. May you have the wisdom to know which challenges are worth your fight and the courage to fight that fight to exhaustion.
Now, go live a hard life.