Ever feel like life is unfair?
Are there too many problems clawing for your attention?
You’re not the only one.
At times it feels like too much to bear.
But there’s a better way to deal with the difficulties of life.
The answer lies not in running away, but turning to face life fully.
The Truth About Adversity
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.” – Frederick Douglass
Adversity is synonymous with difficulty and misfortune.
And we’ve been taught to avoid difficulty at all cost.
But without difficulty, without adversity, there is no growth. No progress. No life. No fulfillment.
Adversity is the force that shapes you for what’s to come.
It’s nothing more than how you view an event in your life. Adversity teaches you to let go of what you think is happening. It nudges you to stay in the present moment.
Adversity seems like an obstacle between you and your dreams. But it’s more like a friend pointing to the the stepping stones along the stream.
“The moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given, the door will open.” – Rumi
Accept the difficulties of life, and life becomes less difficult, because when you face the perceived problems in your life, you become larger than them.
The problem isn’t adversity, but how you relate to it.
When adversity comes knocking on your door, open up, and say hi. It has something to teach you. Somewhere to nudge you.
If I’m honest with myself, I cannot judge events in my life. I don’t know what’s positive and what’s negative. I don’t know what has been put in motion.
In my teens, I had stomach trouble. I spent several years in agony. Yet it changed my life. The doctor’s couldn’t find anything wrong, so I had to reclaim my power, and uncover the solution for myself.
It opened my eyes.
I woke up, as if from a dream, and realized that I could teach myself whatever I wanted.
I could find my own answers, and my own attitude.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl
A Better Way to Cope with Adversity
“There is no education like adversity.” – Disraeli
Instead of seeing adversity as the enemy, look at what you’re being taught.
Coping with adversity doesn’t mean you eliminate the flinch of a negative event.
It means letting go of the reaction to the reaction.
The second reaction is what determines whether you keep pouring fuel on the fire, or whether you harness the fire for your benefit.
Unravel the Reaction
“By letting go it all gets done.” – Lao Tzu
This quote by Lao Tzu is about a mental letting go.
What keeps me chained to resisting adversity is thinking that I’ll fail if things don’t go perfectly.
But once again, I don’t know what perfectly means. I have an idea in my head of how things should go, but I don’t really know.
It’s a fabricated story.
In the end, all I can ever do is live each moment as best as I can, and see what happens.
As John Keats, an English poet, wrote: “If Poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all.”
I follow my heart, my calling, and if it isn’t meant to be, it won’t be.
A Real Life Example
Between 2013 and 2017, I went in and out of depression (or I went through a dark night of the soul).
Life lost its color. Everything lost its meaning.
At first, I resisted. I felt as if I was walking through life unassisted.
But gradually I began to write in my journal. I began to meditate again. Adversity turned into opportunity because of a shift in perspective.
I told myself, “If this is what has to be, then it will be, but I will face it fully. I will feel everything.”
I had to let go of all the results I was grasping for. I had to come face to face with my pattern of wanting to force progress, and wanting to bully life into a ready-made mold.
Sounds easier than it was, but those are the cliff notes. I wrote a more in-depth post about it here.
Related Article: What is the Dark Night of the Soul? (A Complete Guide)
The Bottom Line
“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” – Seneca
Life is difficult. (edited from Life is meant to be difficult).
Life challenges you.
But that doesn’t automatically make it a problem.
The problem is thinking that life should be a smooth ride.
How you think about adversity is what determines how you feel about it, because you feel your thoughts.
The more you can accept what comes your way, the more you can flow with life, and turn difficulty into opportunity.
The more you grow as a person, the more you can deal with life.
And to end this article with a bang, here’s a quote from Hunter S. Thompson:
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
Noora Korppi says
Interesting, very familiar thoughts. This approach may work well for some. Especially for those who hold to their high expectations that they will get what they want without even lifting a finger.
But for me, thinking that “Life is meant to be difficult” hasn’t been a belief that supports my actions and motivation.
One day I heard a radical suggestion: What if life would be easy? I was stunned, because I realized that I have never consciously even thought of that possibility. Since then I’ve been giving easy life a chance.
Isn’t it so, that our thoughts and beliefs shape the life we are living? If I would concentrate on difficulties, I would probably notice them even more. If I believe that life is meant to be easy, I guess it will turn out that way more often.
I’m not saying anyone should avoid or ignore adversities at all cost. Facing them and concentrating what you can learn from them is a good strategy. So is to even treat them as a gift from life, with gratitude.
Even though something looks difficult doesn’t have to mean that the situation is difficult to overcome. Usually the picture we paint in our heads is much scarier than the situation itself.
Thanks for the article Henri, it inspired me to think!
A great perspective, Noora. Sounds like we’re on the same track.
The way I see it is that life will challenge you. At some point, life will get difficult. But that’s not a problem if you have a healthy attitude toward it.
So in my life, there is an even greater belief that gobbles up the one about adversity, which allows me to deal with whatever comes, and rise above it.
You know I love you, right?! Love your blog, what you have to say, what you are doing……
But in this instance I have to disagree with you – well at least for this moment in time!
In some cultures there is no word for adversity did you know that?*
The collective conscious in most cultures and especially in the West has been telling us that life is a ‘struggle’ but what if the was no understanding of this word, what if for one moment you could imagine a world with no words or no polarity. From my perspective the wind does not have to howl or the rain pour down on me for me to enjoy the sun.* and while I have no way of knowng if this is true I do know people who have never experienced struggle in any area of their life and the are well rounded and loving individuals.
How could I not know? 😉
I’m with you, Peta. The thing is, even without the word adversity, there will be challenges, or obstacles, or something that nudge us to grow.
The word doesn’t matter to me as much as the journey. I can see how there can be some misunderstanding in how I wrote this article. I agree with what you wrote, though.
What I see, in people who have never experienced struggle, are people who deal with setbacks well (or whatever you wish to call them).
Thanks for the comment, Peta! Always fun to clarify and dive deeper.
Henri, Thanks so much for your thoughts. They are valuable. I have printed out two copies to send to some people who I believe could benefit from reading and thinking about what you have to say.
What particularly resonated with me are these two statements: “In the end, all I can ever do is live each moment as best as I can, and see what happens.” “The problem is thinking that life should be a smooth ride.” As a student of engaged mindfulness, your ideas help my journey. Have a good day.
Glad to hear that, Cornelia. Hope your friends enjoy the article as well!
I am much relieved tonight as I read your article. To truely confess, I never took much interest in any of your works ever since I signed up.
Tonight, I have realized my problem with the way I see life; I felt I should at least have a smoother life by “DODGING” adversities to claim the much comfort life. But now I can affirm that adversities as one of the vehicles on which we ride to realise our dreams. Your piece is really insightful and I’m glad I signed up anyway.
From what Peta wrote, those two quotes indeed have deep meaning to life. I have posted them to my WhatsApp status and I hope my pals will read to be enlightened too.
Good job Henri.
Thanks Enchill. Happy to hear you liked it!
I just love your articles!! They always make me think. I also honestly found it comforting that you went through a bit of a dark time. Not that I want you, or anyone else to suffer, but it’s comforting to not feel like I’m the only one who has dark times. It’s easy to see other people and think they have it all, so they should be perfectly happy all the time. Like you, for instance, from my vantage point, you “have it all.” You have the life I would love to have, to be honest. You’re “making it” with your website and writing. At least as far as I can tell.
Anyway, I recently went through a dark time myself, and sometimes slip back into it. For the past several months I tried to start my own copywriting business. It didn’t take off like I thought. In fact, I made less than $200 with it. I decided to close the business and 3 months ago I got a traditional job again. I was happy at first, but now I’m back to that familiar feeling of not liking feeling “tied down” to a job. I need to figure out some sort of balance. I need to focus on gratitude again. And positivity.
I could write a ton here, so I’ll just stop. 😉 But I like your point that when life IS a struggle, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s all FOR us… not TO us. And like you, when things don’t go my way, I tend to get frustrated and feel overwhelmed. It’s something I’m working on. Perhaps my current job is perfect for me after all because it’s certainly providing me plentiful opportunities to practice letting go of trying to do it all and do it all perfectly.
To sum up: Thank you. Keep writing! I love reading your stuff!
The way I look at it is like this: Even if your current job isn’t perfect for you, having the perspective that it is perfect helps you relax, which allows your brain to come up with more ideas, and ultimately move forward.
No one ever has it all. Even the richest man in the world wants something. There’s never and end to desire. But that doesn’t mean we can’t rise above it all. Or at least try.
Thanks for the great comment, Sarah!
Tom Huntington says
Here’s a quote I’ve had over my desk for at least the past 5 years:
“Life is effort unremittingly repeated. Real pity is for those who have been beguiled into the perilous delusion that it is not.” Henry James
As I’ve been studying my own “efforts” to live, I now find a distinction between “effort” and “struggle.” When I’m making the “effort” to live and the effort to do my best at living/doing whatever I am doing, it might be challenging and uncomfortable, but there is no “struggle”, no angst, no ambivalence about living or what I’m doing. When I am clearly making the effort, I am strong, even if I’m not very good or skilled at what I’m doing. When I “struggle”, that is a sign that I am not clearly committed to making the effort to live and/or to do what I’m doing in the moment.
Great effort, Henri, at making the effort to live and to live fully and passionately!
Well put, Tom. It’s about accepting that life isn’t always easy, but that doesn’t automatically have to make it hard.
I liked your post- so many times we can get bogged down with all that we need to deal with, I liken life to driving – you need to keep your eyes open and your head turned ahead of you. Worry is a killer – killer of dreams and killer of hope. You have to expect the good, the bad and the ugly times – live them and move on. I like Noora’s ideas too – expect that the best will happen – After you have made your decision to act !
Exactly! And we have to remember that it’s okay to get bogged down from time to time. We aren’t perfect.
““The moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given, the door will open.” – Rumi
Accept the difficulties of life, and life becomes less difficult.”
I agree with you, but not Rumi. The resisting adds difficulty and so accepting makes life easier. This doesn’t mean a solution will appear though – sometimes you can’t get there from here.
Good point, Evan. And I agree. Acceptance, letting go of resisting, is the first step.
Lyrical Treasure says
I am going through a difficult phrase.
I like what you say about surrendering. My God, at the beginning I resisted being in the place where I found myself (i guess that is the second reaction).
I hated that I didn’t know how this would end. Until a few days ago I decided to go with the flow and see how things will turn out. Now I just feel scared but am not fighting it and as such my anxiety is gone. I don’t wake up feeling like I don’t want to go on anymore.
So whatever the outcome I am ready. In the meantime I am more concerned about how I live this moment, right now. Yes, Henri, the color is coming back.
Everything you said in here makes sense and it has made me stronger.
Thank you. 🙂
Good stuff! Next step is to get curious about the fear. Investigate.
so good you shared this piece just now, that I am going through adversity and struggling to find energies to react.
I absolutely enjoyed it and loved the final quote in particular.
I will try and apply your view to my situation, but I just wanted to let you know that the simple act of reading it has brought some positive thoughts into my day.
Great to hear, Enrico. One tiny step at a time does it. Even a 0.1% improvement is a success.
Wow! this is exactly what I am exploring and practicing right now!!!
I am saying a cliche, but I mean it!!! I substituted the Universe for “God”. “Let go and let the Universe.”
It is helping me through some dark times. Also to embrace whatever it is, that is bothering us, just like you said above. Thank you. I find it amazing that when I read what you are writing that it is more on what I myself need, and have been thinking. You have wisdom beyond your years and also thank you for admitting being human.
Letting go is powerful. Not always easy. But then again, it is a practice. Thanks Lynne!
Freaking awesome Henri!!!
This is just what I needed now … I’m going through a tough moment and with the wisdom in this article, I’m now able to put things into perspective.
Thank you my friend!!!
Boom. Glad to be of service 🙂
Laura Ahnen says
Adversity is all relative to personal perspective and just like any survivor of any tragic situation will tell you…it’s how you ‘view’ the event that makes all the difference.
Another great article Henri. You’re in good company as I think it was Albert Einstein who said ‘In the midst of difficulty, lies opportunity’ – and he did know a thing or two :). I perhaps think that one more thing that I would add to this whole philosophy, which is absolutely right at its core, is that it would be really helpful to perhaps get gender and age-specific. I’ve found that the ‘journey’ is littered with tests and challenges which fundamentally come down to a challenge to release the power of the ego and find out who we really are underneath it all. I think these ‘tests’ challenge the ego in specific ways at particular times and very often relate to the stage of life we are at, and can also be gender-specific. The pain of social isolation for a middle-age female is different to the frustration of identity loss of a younger person, or the breaking down of pride perhaps for a male. This is just a reflection of my own experience. Thank you again Henri for your wonderful and thought-provoking articles 🙂
Sebastian Aiden Daniels says
I love the various selection of quotes. It is so true that the best way to cope with adversity is to embrace it and accept it with everything you have. My greatest growth has come from the things that caused me the most amount of pain. You need to keep going and holding your head up instead of giving up or resorting to drugs. You might feel like shit inside and at the same time it will eventually pass if you do the work that is required to get through the moments and change for the better.
Tom Johnston says
Another great post, Henri. As I have written before, yours is a unique voice online. Also, I have to say that some of your commenters are quite thought-provoking as well. Noora’s point in particular (about assuming life can be easy) served as an interesting counterpoise. It may be a paradox, but I think both your post and her rejoinder are true……
Thanks Tom, and I completely agree!
In response to your quote, “I had to let go of all the results I was grasping for. I had to come face to face with my pattern of wanting to force progress, and wanting to bully life into a ready-made mold.”
I do this a lot. But why? Because when I look around me, my peers, and people on tv, it seems like they have a goal and they accomplish it. But when I want to do something, I try and I might never get it. And that is what causes me a lot of frustration. Why can’t I make progress in my life? I see others doing things. For example, I wanted to go to a really good college. Well, automatically I couldn’t go because of 2 reasons: 1. My parents are poor and 2. I didn’t have the best grades. And that has affected the rest of my life. Employers aren’t that interested in community colleges. I want to move on, but i feel like things that are out of my control always grab me.
What comes to mind, and this is quite cliché, is that you do the best you can with what you’ve got. I’ve noticed in my life that I don’t know why I’m sometimes stopped from going down a certain path, but each time it has happened has turned out to be for a reason. I simply follow what is interesting to the best of my ability. That’s the best advice I have at the moment.
I hope you’re fine!
Another amazing article that is helping me a lot. ***How does it get better than this and what does it take to more and more people benefit from all amazing things you have to offer?*** (putting in action the concept of ‘ask and you shall receive’)
You always show a different perspective that makes me feel relieved. And it also makes me want to reflect.
I will never forget the day I was so frustrated, arguing with the universe and just after that ‘I found’ your videos on Youtube and it helped me SO much.
Thrilled to hear that, Helena. Thank you for commenting and sharing!