Sisyphus struggle

The Transforming Power of Struggle

I grew up as a somewhat reserved, but generally happy child. My parents have enabled me to develop empathy through their love and warmth, conscience through their personal example. School was adequately challenging, but never too difficult. The choice of university was natural due to our residence in Haifa, the choice of faculty obvious due to the comfortable employment prospects it offered in the future. Being fortunate to never experience any serious hardships, I have lived along a straight path of obvious choices and easy answers. But life lived easily has one inherent shortcoming: it doesn’t teach you the value of struggle.

Last autumn I took a vacation with my girlfriend to Rhodes. On the third day we took a bus to the local water-park. After having fun for a couple of hours on easy slides, we climbed on the highest one, and Yulia said that she wanted to go down this slide. She has done this before when she was younger, but she was not sure she was up to it now. I guess she wanted to prove herself that she has still got that audacious spirit of her younger self. But looking at the steep slope of the slide was enough to make us both cringe: it was very high, unpopular with other visitors (we were the only ones in line), and if that wasn’t enough, the slide was called ‘Kamikadze’. Yulia was struggling: her almost irrational need to take on this challenge was confronted by a natural, instinctive fear. And standing beside her, I was torn apart. What was I to do? To encourage her that she could do this or to console her wounded pride, and convince her that passing on this idea was the mature thing to do? Eventually choosing the first, I gently tried to show her my confidence that she can do this. After 15 minutes of hesitations, false starts and failed resolves, she gathered courage, and screamingly jumped into the slide. Minutes later she met me on the other side, smiling, with happy tears oh her cheeks. Hugging me, she whispered words of gratitude for helping her going through it. In that moment she was truly happy.

Yulia’s struggle was with her nature. Her instincts demanded safety,  her spirit demanded realization. She was not adrenalin-driven with reckless courage, she was compelled by a truly human trait to overcome and achieve. Through overcoming her nature and fulfilling the call of her spirit, she has achieved self-respect and got closer to her true self.

What is this ephemeral “true self”?

  • This is that person that you can become – by utilizing your potential, embracing your heritage, detecting your calling. Having no musical ear, it’s pointless to dream of becoming a recognized musician.
  • This is the person that you should become – rising up to the challenge of your circumstances, coping, not escaping from life difficulties, taking responsibility for your well-being and the happiness of the people around you.

These days I am increasingly inclined to think that only through struggle are we able to achieve our true selves. Human struggle can wear many forms: struggle with yourself – overcoming fear, doubts, procrastination; struggle with nature – overcoming external hardships, which eventually translates into overcoming yourself; struggle within society – overcoming perceptions and prejudice. All of these have one thing in common: its stretching yourself, pushing the boundaries of what’s easy, familiar and possible. It’s doing that additional push-up, it’s holding your tongue when your parents annoy you, it’s writing that additional line despite exhaustion. It’s through these daily, little struggles that we become more resilient, generous and true to ourselves.

So what I wish for myself and for you my friends is the ability to recognize the transforming power of the struggle. While we may fall, fail and even quit, we shouldn’t think that it was all in vein.

The struggle itself…is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy – Albert Camus

10 Replies

  • Great writeup, Mike! As usual 🙂

    This is such an important topic that I don’t even know where to start relating to it… therefore, I’ll just add some random related thoughts… 😉

    Do we evolve through struggles and hardships? Certainly, and I believe we create the struggles we “need” for ourselves, in a way. But struggles as a metaphor for life’s happenings can also sometimes be used in a less than effective manner. Sometimes we hold beliefs that something we want must be obtained through struggle, when in reality it could’ve been simpler. Sometimes we tend to take the struggle and turn it into a war, and derive energy from that (i.e. “everybody are against me”).

    The notion of a true self is interesting. I personally find the specific definition you’ve used useful, but dislike the term “true self” in general, as it can sometimes be used in less than useful ways (e.g. “I can’t do this, it’s just not for me”…).

    Anyway, just my random 2c. May you enjoy, learn and develop in your struggles 🙂

    • I agree with you that struggle has the potential of transforming into a holy war, and you becoming a martyr. This kind of mentality is dangerous because it isolates the person and disrupts his connection to reality.

      When talking about “the true self”, I am not suggesting that there is only one right outcome, and all the others are wrong. Maybe a better term for what I mean would be “the fulfilled self”. Every person has a promise, a potential, a capacity. But it has to be fulfilled, in order for the person to achieve happiness and a sense of accomplishment.

      When someone is saying “I can’t do this, it’s not for me”, what is he actually saying? “Help me to regain my confidence”? “I am preparing arguments for quitting”? “I have underwent a serious soul-searching and realized that this is completely wrong for me”? All of these are of-course legitimate, and it’s hard to know what we as the listeners and friends have to do and say in such situation. When should we support a push and when can we vindicate a pull? These are tough questions.

      I would love to hear more of your thinking about “smart work” vs. “hard work” notion.

  • Reminds me of a quote by Bertrand Russell

    “If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have paradise in a few years”

    • I see that during the last couple of months you are discussing the meaning of happiness in your blog, from different angles.
      So, I have a question which touches the core of this blog.

      How do you monetize on “making people happy”?
      It seems that most ways to make a person happy are free.

      Self realization = Free
      Love = Free
      Deep communication = Free
      Overcoming fears = Free

      Don’t you think it’s much easier to sell something “real” like TVs rather than something esoteric like “Happiness”?

      • That’s a very good point. All of these things are indeed free. They are free, valuable and priceless – ah, the beauty of human language 🙂

        In my blog I am not trying to sell anything. I do occasionally talk about technological solutions and their business potential. But posts like this one, dealing with some aspects of our existence are meant to make some coherent sense from incoherent thoughts that I am having. They don’t have any hidden agenda – at least not that I am aware of 🙂

        I wouldn’t presume to know anything on the subject of happiness. Being a theoretician of happiness is the ultimate irony 🙂

    • Sometimes our own happiness can stand in the way of other people. More often, our happiness depends on other people. So I think we should be talking about our common happiness as much as we are talking about personal happiness.

      I am suspicious of total individualism – because it can lead to self-indulgence (“I do what I want, and no-one can tell me otherwise). I am suspicious of collectivism – because it can lead to the suppression of an individual in the pursuit of some illusory common good.
      Balance between the two has to be found. And then we can all be happy 🙂

  • Dugg and shared on Facebook (hoping to score high for the Givaway :-))

    Only now read this post, and much appreciated it.

    Thanks Mike for putting this in a context that is so easy to relate to. Your real life example of what seems like a small/simple struggle, and taking it as a life example for any scale, is refreshing and enjoyable as ever.

    This actually inspires me to try and write again – a personal struggle of mine.

    Truly Yours

      • Struggle with fear is indeed an empowering experience. I wish we would remember it, and exercise our free will more often.

    • I would be honored if my words would rekindle your passion of sharing your life experience and the things you go through. I am missing your enthusiastic and optimistic voice.

      And thanx for the promotion 🙂

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