Lesson #1: Life is Hard, and Sometimes Unfair
Updated: Jun 2
All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles
and obstacles have strengthened me.
- Walt Disney
Found posted on an obstetrical ward bulletin board: “Recent research shows that the first five minutes are very risky.” Under that, someone had penciled in the words, “The last five aren’t so hot either.” So, I guess we can safely assume that from the cradle to the grave, life can be counted on to challenge us with troubles, obstacles and occasional storms that test us, thus proving that life can indeed be hard and sometimes even unfair. Sean Combs wrote, “Everyone has challenges and lessons to learn - we wouldn’t be who we are without them.” Life isn’t about waiting for the storms to pass; it’s really about learning to dance in the rain. Be patient, sometimes you have to go through the worst to get to the best.
If you could write a letter to life, would it sound something like this:
Dear Life. I have a complete grasp on the fact that you are not fair, so please stop teaching me that lesson.
Remember when we were kids and we wanted to grow up? What were we thinking?
Do you sometimes wish you could just rewind back to your childhood days and press pause, just for a little while and return to simpler times? Do you remember watching Saturday morning cartoons while eating a bowl of cereal and not having a care in the world other than what cartoon is next? Do you miss days like those?
Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes states, “There are the types of days when you should just give in, put your pajamas back on, and read comic books in bed with the covers up until the world looks more encouraging.”
How’s adulting going for me, you ask? Adulting is defined as the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks. To me, being an adult is often like folding a fitted sheet; no one really knows how. As a matter of fact, I have been putting a lot of thought into it and I just don’t think being an adult is going to work for me any longer. So, I would like to stop the world as it is and get off. I would like to officially resign from adulthood; I wish to go back to elementary school. Arguments will be settled by sticking out my tongue. I’ll be at recess if you need me.
Be patient, sometimes you have to go through the worst to get to the best.
Have you ever heard someone say, “This is not the life I ordered!” as if anyone ever had control over such things. Or, “I didn’t sign up for this” as if you could design your own life curriculum. Life just doesn’t work that way.
Christopher Reeve was an American actor, writer and director. He was best known for his role as DC comic book Superman in a series of four movies. On May 27, 1995, Reeve was left quadriplegic after being thrown from a horse during an equestrian competition. He used a wheelchair and needed a portable ventilator to breathe for the rest of his life. He chose to become a lobbyist on behalf of people with spinal cord injuries and founded the Christopher Reeve Foundation. In an interview, he stated, “Sometimes life is all about perspective. I’m not living the life I thought I would lead, but it does have meaning and purpose. There is love, there is joy and there is laughter.”
Hal Urban, in his book, Life’s Greatest Lessons, writes: "Life doesn’t always work the way we would like it to. If we had our way, it would be easier, consistently fair, and more fun. There’d be no pain and suffering, we wouldn’t have to work and we wouldn’t have to die. We’d be happy all the time. Unfortunately, we don’t get our way. We get reality instead. Reality is a great teacher. It helps us learn, although often slowly and painfully, some of life’s most valuable lessons. One of them is this: ‘The world will not devote itself to making us happy.’"
It seems there was an old farmer who had suffered through a lifetime of troubles and afflictions that would have levelled an ordinary mortal. But through it all, he never lost his sense of humour.
“How have you managed to keep so happy and serene?” asked a friend.
“It isn’t hard,” replied the old fellow with a twinkle in his eye. “I’ve just learned to co-operate with the inevitable.”
Resilience can be defined as never giving up even when things get tough, trying even if you’re not sure you’ll succeed, having the courage to come back from a failure, and getting back up again when you’ve been knocked down. Getting up and moving forward is a choice. As one of my colleagues once said, “You don’t drown by falling face first in a puddle; you drown by staying there.”
Jim Clemmer in his blog post, Bounce Back: 9 ways to strengthen resilience, reports that in Japan, the Daruma Doll is a good luck charm with a rounded bottom. When knocked down, it bounces back upright. The ability to bounce back is a symbol of perseverance and good luck. Tigger, the fictional tiger from The House at Pooh Corner, adds, “Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.”
Do you sometimes find life depressing? Do you have difficulty sometimes facing the world? Charlie Brown chips in, “This is my ‘depressed stance.’ When you’re depressed, it makes a lot of difference how you stand. The worst thing you can do is straighten up and hold your head high, because then you’ll start to feel better. If you’re going to get any joy out of being depressed, you’ve got to stand like this.”
Getting up and moving forward is a choice.
Ann Landers adds, “If I were to give what I consider the single most useful bit of advice for all humanity, it would be this: Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life and when it comes, hold your head high, look it squarely in the eye and say, ‘I will be bigger than you. You cannot defeat me.’ Trouble is not a sign of inadequacy, stupidity or inferiority, but rather an inescapable part of life-proof that you are a card-carrying member of the human race.”
Author Dennis Wholey adds, “Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is like expecting a bull not to attack because you are a vegetarian.” There are no exemptions granted for being a good person.
A railroad engineer woke up one morning on the wrong side of the bed. Because his alarm didn’t go off, he’s almost an hour late. He can’t shave because the water heater burst in the night. Breakfast had to be a glass of water because none of his appliances were working due to a power outing. He can’t get his car started. The cabbie who drives him to the rail yard overcharges him by five dollars. He gets into the cabin of the train and manages to start it up, but just as the wheels start to turn, he sees another train on the same track, heading at him at ninety miles an hour. He turns to the fireman, shakes his head, and says, “Did you ever have one of those days?”
Have you ever had one of those days? It is critical we develop the right perspective on having occasional bad days. Dolly Parton writes, “I’ve had heartaches, headaches, toothaches, earaches, and I’ve had a few pains in the ass, but I’ve survived to tell about it.” So far, you and I have survived 100% of our worst days. And it’s just a bad day, not a bad life. There are people out there who would probably love to have your bad days. And speaking of perspective, was it a bad day? Or was it a bad five minutes? Tim Hansel chips in, “Life is often ambiguous and untidy. There are always loose ends. It is sticky, hot, cold, lukewarm at times, and frequently messy and unmanageable. Most of life is somewhere in between, in the middle, amidst small frustrations and a lot of ‘I don’t know what to do next.”
Bruce Lee wrote, “Know the difference between a catastrophe and an inconvenience. To realize it’s just an inconvenience, that it is not catastrophic, but just an unpleasantness, is part of coming into your own, part of waking up.” While a steady rain can be a welcome sight for a farmer, it can make an evening at a baseball miserable. If you never tasted a bad apple, you would not appreciate a good apple. You have to experience life to understand life. Things just happen, and you can’t make them un-happen. You don’t get do-overs. You can’t roll back the clock. Everybody has gone through something that has changed them in a way that they could never go back to the person they once were.
There are no exemptions granted for being a good person.
Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, following his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer, wrote a series of ‘Life Lessons.’ One key lesson was to try and see the silver lining in every dark cloud. He wrote, “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.” The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” In other words, the worst thing that could happen, in retrospect, might turn out to be the best thing that could happen.
Take some time and really reflect on the following statements:
What if life was not happening to you, it was happening for you?
- Anthony Robbins
When you replace, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ with, ‘What is this trying to teach me?’, everything shifts.
We have no right to ask when a sorrow comes, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ unless we ask the same question for every joy that comes our way.
- Philip E. Bernstein
M. Scott Peck states in his book, The Road Less Travelled, “Life is difficult.” He goes on to say, “Most do not fully see the truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and the difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy. Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a truth because once we see this truth, we transcend it. Once we know that life is difficult, then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters. Once we align our expectations and accept the reality that life, by nature, is both unpredictable and challenging, we remove much of the frustration we live with day by day. In fact, we can then find satisfaction, even joy, in facing the unknown and overcoming challenge.”
Sydney Harris writes: “Whenever I hear someone sigh, “Life is hard, I am always tempted to ask, compared to what?” Tom Hanks, in the movie, A League of Their Own, on addressing the game of baseball said, “There’s no crying in baseball, it’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard…is what makes it great!”
Complaining doesn’t make problems go away.
We must understand the reality or law of cycles. Ups follow downs and downs follow ups, or vice versa. Your good times are temporary and your bad times are temporary. Life is full of twists and turns, ups and downs, and surprises. If good things lasted forever, would we appreciate how precious they are? These inevitable cycles are a part of life. So, when you’re up, enjoy it, bask in it, and be grateful for it. And when you’re down, know you will get through it. Know that it’s not the end, and that it’s just a tough patch.
It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to write him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. A couple of weeks later, after much thought and contemplation, they presented him with a ring with the following phrase inscribed on it, the words: "This, too, shall pass!”
John Kehoe writes, “All incidents in our life have their purpose. Both fortune and misfortune serve us in their own way. We often do not understand at the time why certain events are happening to us, but everything plays a part in the formation of our character and fate. One can find wisdom and lessons in the most unusual places, and destiny is always at work, even in the most casual of encounters.”
Hal Urban continues: “The problem with too many people, regardless of age, is that they don’t understand or don’t accept the fact that life involves a certain amount of hardship. They fight against it instead of adjusting to it. They talk as if their difficulties are unique, and seem to feel that life is easier for everyone else. Complaining doesn’t make problems go away. Complaining is an attempt to unload our problems on others, a way of refusing to accept them as necessary conditions of life.”
Cherie Carter Scott adds, “Our sense of fairness is the expectation of equity - the assumption that all things are equal and that justice will always prevail. Life is not, in fact, fair, and you may indeed have a more difficult life path than others around you, deserved or not.” Max Beerbohm adds, “Some people are born to lift heavy weights, some are born to juggle golden balls.” Life itself can be the most difficult exam. Many people fail because they try to copy others, not realizing that everyone has a different question paper.
From the wisdom of Oliver Wendell Holmes, “If I had a formula for bypassing trouble, I would not pass it around. Trouble creates a capacity to handle it.” Things will continue to happen, that’s a certainty. Sometimes it may be to remind you of what you take for granted. Difficult times may result in helping you understand and appreciate how good life really is. Don’t wait for everything to be perfect before you decide to enjoy life.
Life itself can be the most difficult exam. Many people fail because they try to copy others, not realizing that everyone has a different question paper.
Facing difficulties is inevitable. Learning from them is optional. If you focus on the hurt, you will continue to suffer. If you focus on the lesson, you will continue to grow. Allyson Jones writes, “If I could wish for my life to be perfect, it would be tempting but I would have to decline, for life would no longer teach me anything.” My recommendation is, ‘Grow through what you go through.’ Often the biggest wall you have to climb is the one you build in your mind.
Lord Byron once wrote, “What deep wounds ever closed without a scar?”
Should life really be about avoiding the bruises? Maybe it’s about collecting the scars to prove we showed up for it. What if we were to change our perspective on scars from negative to positive? From every wound there is a scar. Don’t be ashamed of the scars life has left you with. A scar means the hurt is over and the wound is closed. It means you conquered the pain, in some cases perhaps learned a lesson, grew stronger and moved forward. Don’t allow your scars to hold you hostage. Don’t allow them to make you live your life in fear. You can’t make the scars in your life disappear, but you can change the way you see them; you can start seeing your scars as a sign of strength and not pain.
Life can be good. William Lyon Phelps states, “One appreciates that life is really good when one wakes from a horrible dream or when one takes their first outing after a sickness.” Agatha Christie wrote, “I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all, I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a good thing.”
These days, you don’t have to go very far to find endless examples of people blaming everybody and everything for the way their lives have turned out. It seems like these people are key players in what has been called the ‘whine industry.’ It’s like a relative of the ‘pessimism plague.’ It’s a disease, that leads to the poor-me syndrome, a state of powerlessness to do anything about one’s problems. Sufferers run away from personal responsibilities with excuses like “It’s just the way I am,” or “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
Maya Angelou wrote so beautifully, “Because of the routines we follow, we often forget that life is an ongoing adventure. We leave homes for work, acting and believing that we will reach our destinations with no unusual event startling us out of our expectations. The truth is we know nothing, not where our cars will fail or when our buses will stall, whether our places of employment will be there when we arrive, or whether in fact, we ourselves will arrive whole and alive at the end of our journeys. Life’s pure adventure, and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art, to bring all our energies to each encounter, to remain flexible enough to notice and admit when what we expected to happen did not happen. We need to remember that we are created creative and can invent new scenarios as frequently as they are needed.” Always remember these words from Margaret Mitchell, “Life is under no obligation to give us what we expect.”
Don’t wait for everything to be perfect before you decide to enjoy life.
Robin Williams stated in Good Will Hunting, “You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.” Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are. Never regret a day in your life: good days give happiness, bad days give experience, worst days give lessons and best days give memories.
Trust your journey. Not everything will be easy but not everything will be hard. Some days you just have to create your own sunshine. Always remember, attitude is most often the difference between an ordeal and an adventure. You can’t always have a good day, but you can face a bad day with a good attitude.
What life lesson did you learn the hard way?
What has been the most stressful experience in your life? Did you survive it?
What’s one thing that happened to you that made you a stronger person?
What struggle have you recently faced? What’s a life lesson or insight you have gained from it?
How many times a day do you complain? What’s the longest you have ever gone without complaining? Try and go for 24 hours straight without complaining. Do this exercise at least once a week for the next month.
Choose one quote every day or perhaps one or two every week if you like. How do these quotes speak to you? What applications do you see in your life? Share your chosen quotes with a family member, a friend, a business colleague. Create a ‘quote of the day’ club at work.
Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
- J.K. Rowling
If life were fair, there would be no need for salads.
- Erma Bombeck
You don’t always win your battles, but it’s good to know that you fought.
- Lauren Bacall
Every struggle in your life has shaped you into the person you are today. Be thankful for the hard times, they can only make you stronger.
- Keanu Reeves
If fortune turns against you, even jelly breaks your teeth.
- Old Persian Proverb
If I wanted life to be easy, I should have been born in a different universe.
- Rebecca West
Hope for the best. Expect the worst. Life is a play. We’re unrehearsed.
- Mel Brooks
It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.
- Lena Horne
You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.
- Mary Tyler Moore
You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and the best you have to give.
- Eleanor Roosevelt
Storms make trees take deeper roots.
- Dolly Parton
Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.
- Steve Jobs
Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.
- Bruce Lee
We could never learn to be brave and patient if there was only joy in the world.
- Helen Keller
If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.
- Theodore Roosevelt
Accept that somedays you’re the pigeon, and sometimes you’re the statue.
- Mark Knopfler
All things are difficult before they are easy.
- John Morley
If you have a job without aggravations, you don’t have a job.
- Malcolm Forbes
I’m looking forward to looking back on this.
- Sandra Knell
There are some things you can only learn in a storm.
- Joel Osteen
It takes a great deal of courage to see the world in all its tainted glory, and still love it.
- Oscar Wilde
Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.
- Eckhart Tolle
We can look upon life as a series of trials and tribulations, or we can choose to look upon life as an accumulation of treasures.
- George Bernard Shaw
Next Lesson: You Choose Your Attitude