The Gift of Struggle

Struggle

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” – C.S. Lewis

When I was in second grade I struggled to keep up with the other kids in school. My teacher tried to help me but had too much on her plate.

So she called my mom and told her I was “slow” and that she didn’t have the time to devote to me in class. She went on to tell my mom she thought I might be mentally challenged.

Of course my mom protested and told her I was smart and capable just like the other kids.

But the truth was, things at home were not good. My parents fought a lot and my dad was often away on business. As I result, I shut down. My mind drifted and I created my own inner world during school.

After more discussion with my teacher and principle, it was decided I would be placed in Resource, a special education program my school offered.

I was humiliated.

I didn’t want to go to Resource. I didn’t want to be different, abnormal, dumb. But that’s how it felt.

I’ll never forget the first day the Resource teacher came into my class and called my name. She called me and another kid. I grabbed my backpack, kept my head down and headed out of class.

I could hear the whispers and giggles of the other kids. I felt dejected and alone.

But this humiliation ended up being a blessing in disguise.

I’ll never forget my Resource teacher, Mrs. Stripling, who was so kind and encouraging. She immediately recognized something in me that I didn’t see in myself – the gift to create.

“You’re really good at creating stories,” she told me. “Have you ever done any creative writing?”

‘No,” I told her.

“Why don’t I show you how? All you have to do is take what you have in your mind and put in on paper.”

Mrs. Stripling worked with me and helped me craft up my stories. She encouraged me to use my imagination and inspired me to create and dream big.

She offered me a gift by recognizing my potential.

“The job of love is to realize potential,” said Bono.

Little did Mrs. Stripling know she was planting seeds in my young heart that would one day bloom into a profession of writing and public speaking.

With that said, here are four ways I believe struggle can be one of our greatest gifts:

1. Struggle pushes us out of ourselves and helps us see things differently.

When I told I had a “learning disability” I felt devastated and defeated. It pushed me further into myself and I felt trapped there. But what my Resource teacher did was help me see things differently – she opened my eyes to what I could do.

We all struggle, that’s not the question. The question is: What will we do with our struggle? If we allow it to lift us out of ourselves and into a bigger story – into the story of humanity where we can add value to others – than it’s worth it.

2. Struggle helps us learn to create, dream, and take steps we wouldn’t have before.

J.K. Rowling, the world-renowned author of the Harry Potter books, almost lost all hope years ago as a single-mom without a job living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Life was hard and she was depressed.

But amid this struggle, Rowling would walk the streets of Edinburgh until her baby fell asleep, and then plop down in a café and write. It was during this time Harry Potter was born.

The world is forever changed because of Rowling’s work – a work forged in the trenches of her own pain and struggle.

Would she have started writing if she hadn’t gone through a divorce and felt so alone? We don’t know. But the truth is her struggle created the environment for her to dream big and take steps.

3. Struggle helps us know we’re not alone.

There’s something powerful about sharing our wounds with others. When we do, we realize we’re not alone. Conversely, when we don’t share our struggles, when we stay inside our own heads, we feel isolated and defeated.

This, then, can lead to all sorts of problems, and even illnesses.

The one common thread that holds all humanity together is the fact we all struggle. Pain does not care if we are rich or poor, black, white or brown.

Everyone has pain.

Once we realize this we can stop pretending and thinking (a) we have no problems; or(b) we are the only ones with problems.

The truth is, when we share our struggles it empowers and connects us deeper to our own humanity and to others.

4. Struggle can lead us on the path of extraordinary (if we let it).

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been” – George Elliot.

Twenty-five years after I was told I had a learning disability, I sat on my couch feeling (once again) dejected and alone because of an email I received from a potential publisher. The email stated they rejected my manuscript.

I was heart-broken. I had waited three months for their reply, and even received emails saying the manuscript is promising and would be sent to the editorial staff for review.

My wife sat by me and said, “Don’t worry, Dave, you’ll find a publisher. God has a plan for this book.”

And she believed it too – she believed I was called to write my book and that it would change many people’s lives. The problem was, I didn’t believe it… not any more.

Sadly, I drank a tall glass of self-pity and called it a day.

But thankfully, that’s not the end of a story. About a week or so after I received this email, another publisher contacted me and said they were interested in my manuscript.

I couldn’t believe it!

Months later, I held my first book in my hands. My dream came true.

I deeply believe that struggle can lead us on to an extraordinary path, a path we may miss if everything went smoothly. The question is, will we let struggle lead us on this extraordinary path and allow it to become a tool and instrument to not only change us, but ultimately change the word?

I hope so.

How has a personal struggle helped you to grow? Do you see struggle as a gift?

Photo by Kreg Steppe

Struggle

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68 thoughts on “The Gift of Struggle”

  1. Well, I’d rather not have had some of my life-defining moments (or struggles if you wish), for example my chronic illness, but you just have to play with the cards you’ve been dealt. I have written a book and created some products – something I would never have dreamt of doing (esp. because English is a foreign language to me), so there is a silver lining. I guess it’s also about the number and severity of such moments – some are easier to deal with than others and you don’t always need a really hard lesson, or for that lesson to keep coming up in your life.

    1. Thanks Tita for your comment and sharing a bit of your story. It’s amazing how we can be an instrument of change and impact on others by the pain we ourselves have gone through.

      1. Bhagyashree Muley

        Hello Dave,

        I am very impressed your article.

        I think I am suffering from same feeling as written in this article.
        I am very good at work but usually facing communication issues. Please guide me how can I improve my writing skills because good communication is very important for my career as I am in sales.

        -Regards,
        Bhagyashree

  2. I have spent the last 8 years struggling since my divorce and I see no end to the struggle, I guess I will just struggle forever.

  3. I too was placed in the special class at secondary school. But my teachers were cruel to me and greatly blocked my path. I had an busy single Mum and a Dad who was always away working. I spent alot of time outside of the classroom door. I failed all my grades resulting in a lack of education. I have turned out to be a very intelligent, creative and productive person but hindered professionally and emotionally scarred by events at school and home.
    I still haven’t found my way.
    It’s good to hear a positive result from a similar story.

    1. Thanks for sharing so honestly, Kate. Sounds like our stories are similar, but I am saddened to hear you had no teachers who helped you realize your potential. I do believe you will find your way. There is always hope. Keep moving forward.

  4. What a timely post! I have gone through similar struggles in life (for me it was a health issue). Even after the struggle goes away or you have overcome it, other struggles tend to come our way. You are right…..how we deal with it let’s are colors shine though. I have written extensively on this topic. In fact, I have dedicated a whole section on my company’s website dedicated to Inspirational posts. I have been published here too! If want you can see them here….http://www.sideshow-solutions.com/index.php/category/inspirational/

    Thanks for sharing Dave!!

    1. Thanks for sharing Dan. I will definitely check out your work. And you’re right, when we conquer one struggle, another is just around the corner. I guess it keeps us humble :)

  5. Pragmatic advice.
    Just to add:
    1. Jesus said unto him, ” If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth”.
    2.” Trouble is like a pebble. Hold it too close to your eyes, it becomes too big and blocks your entire view. Throw it at your feet and it is just one more stepping stone on the pathway “.

  6. Dave, I found this from Tribewriters group on Facebook. Great post. I’m definitely not the same peron I was 10 years ago. Through a dark night of my own, God shaped me and showed me how to take my creative energy to the marketplace and take a path of business. I don’t understand everything, but I know I certainly wouldn’t have the perspective and drive I do now without that struggle.

    I don’t have all the answers for those who are in the struggle right now, but I know you get perspective you didn’t have before when looking back.

    Love that C.S. Lewis quote about preparing for an extraordinary destiny. C.S. Lewis I’m thinking would’ve had to have gone through his own struggles to come up with that quote. Imagine what the world would be like if C. S. Lewis hadn’t gone through his preparations?

    1. Thanks for sharing some of your story Josh. Glad to connect through Tribe Writers, too. Love being a part of that group.

      You are so right, we definitely get perspective from our struggles – at least that’s the hope.

  7. Hi Dave. I really enjoyed reading your post, because it is a real situation for many, many people. It is true that our struggles can lead us on an extraordinary life journey. I was reading this week about designer Tommy Hilfiger, who was described as “stupid” by his school teachers and friends because of dyslexia. Hilfiger overcame his learning difficulties and became a successful clothing designer. He states that his struggles with dyslexia inspired him to strive for success – and what a success he became! As you say in your article, Dave, it’s not the struggle itself but how we handle the struggle that is important. Many thanks for your thoughts.

  8. Thought this was a great post. Thank you for your transparency. After our mom died they put out little brother in a special needs class. He wasn’t slow, he was trying to figure out how to function without a mom.

    I have gone through many trials in my life, lost many loved ones and I have to say that God has taught me so much in those dark times. Taught me about his character. In pain, I see him the clearest.

  9. Hi Dave

    A thoughtfully written piece.

    Sometimes you are at that threshold of life wherein you have everything…but something inside tells you that this is not what you want and life becomes such a struggle…you start looking for signs…and feelings and events that have been been buried in the farthest corners seem to be creeping back up.

    Honestly have been through a lot struggle in life and come out on top….but this is something unlike before…probably will update once I figure it out..

    Thanks

    Harsha

    1. Thanks Harsha. I appreciate your comment. Sounds like you’ve learned a lot through your trials, which is the key isn’t it? That’s how true growth happens.

  10. Thank you for this great post which encourages me! I don’t believe struggles come as blessings, but you’re right. Struggles can give our lives fantastic and new direction. I can ask myself: who would I be without struggles? This is an impossible question since, as you mentioned, all people have struggles. The difference is of course what we do with our struggles? Do we give up…or?
    Has a struggle helped me to grow? Perhaps. Actually, today I suddenly remembered an incidence on my school when I was a child. Back then there were bullies on my school. I wrote an anonymous complaint and put it on the pin-up board for everyone to see. I think that was the first time my writing made a change.

  11. Hi Dave,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! I subscribed to “The Change Blog” when I was in school 2 years ago and I have seen a lot of great stories. Today while reading your story (for some reason) it really hit home with me not really seeing it as a struggle just part of life and some may see it that way but I am wondering if it is more than that. I am a single mom and I find myself being layed off. I am a Medical Assistant with a associate’s degree in applied science and certification with a little over 2 years experience. It seems that I struggle everyday to make ends meet and I am finding myself wondering if it was ever worth it. I think I have dug myself into a ditch that I am having trouble getting out of. I have never had this problem before, I am always positive and jump in with both feet to do my best. I am beginning to think that it is affecting my child as well. I am wanting to go on with something different but how to start over is (I think) what is holding me back. Thank you for shining a light.

    1. Thank you, Jenny, for your honesty in sharing this. I am sorry to hear about this ditch you feel that you are in. We all get stuck in ditches or ruts in life – I know I have. But it takes courage and perseverance and faith to get out. I know that you will. God bless and hang in there.

  12. John (aka Wish I Were Riding)

    “Sadly, I drank a tall glass of self-pity and called it a day.
    But thankfully, that’s not the end of a story. About a week or so after I received this email, another publisher contacted me and said they were interested in my manuscript.”

    This doesn’t prove you did anything. This sounds like you got lucky.

    1. John – I don’t believe in luck (in the sense of that it just “happened”); but rather felt the pain and struggle led to the book, which then (thankfully, and I believe God’s providence) led to the publication. Thanks for your comment.

  13. Thanks I appreciate your comment. I don’t miss bulles, that’s for sure. And yes, we most certainly should learn from our trials. Glad to hear your writing made a difference… keep making that difference!

  14. Thankfully you found a teacher who recognized your gifts. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if children were taught to pursue the things they are good at, instead of feeling bad struggling to learn the subjects that are not their strengths? We’re not all the same and shouldn’t be taught the same. I’m glad your struggles led you to publishing a book.

    1. Thanks Donna for sharing. Yea, I think education should be reformed and focus on children’s strengths rather than on weaknesses. Sure we need to improve our weaknesses; but it is a bit much in standard education.

  15. thank you so much for this encouraging post. i myself is going through such a struggling phase of my life. i am 23 i completed graduation 2 years back till than i was preparing for government service but this 2 years came as failure for me. i am failing in every test that i gave. and i feel like that now my life is over. now i am only struggling.
    i am really sorry my english is not that good. as it is not my native language.

    1. Ruchi – I am so sorry to hear this. Please, please don’t give up. I know you feel like your life is over, but it’s not. I believe if you keep moving forward and hold onto hope, you will look back at this time in your life and realize how much you learned and how much you grew. If you’d like, please feel free to email me at davejarnold16@gmail.com. I am happy to talk with you and help you in any way I can. God bless and hang in there.

  16. Dave,
    Enjoyed the post, thanks. I note that you quoted Bono. If you’re familar to with the U2 album Rattle and Hum you’ll know the line about kicking at the darkness in God Part II. It’s borrowed from a Bruce Cockburn song – Lover’s in a Dangerous Time. The line and the one before it are a bit of a personal mantra:

    But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight —
    Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight

    1. Hey Peter – thanks for your comment. I wasn’t aware of the background info you gave about U2 and Cockburn – very cool. Yea, I heard that quote from an interview I listened to with Bono and it really stuck with me. He’s got some great insight. I like the line you shared (your personal mantra). Very true. Again, thanks!

  17. Hi Dave, great post!
    Challenges are what makes life interesting isn’t it? Other wise how would we appreciate the good things in life?
    I have faced lots of challenges and I haven’t really overcome most of them. But these challenges have made me who I am, and I accept that. Challenges make my life interesting – no denying that!

    1. Arijit – Challenges certainly do make life interesting. How boring and mundane life would be if it were always smooth! How could we grow and learn? Thanks for your comment. I hope and pray you will have great insight and wisdom from the challenges you face.

  18. Dave, the idea is as old as time itself isn’t it? Right of the top of my head, I think of John Smith helping to build the Jamestown colony. In his “General History of Virginia,” he said “…everything of worth is found full of difficulties…” And we can find similar sentiment all throughout history if we but look.
    For me, difficulty and struggle prompted me to make a very bold step into a completely new career and way of life. My husband’s job was eliminated very suddenly and I was left to continue working at the same company out of sheer necessity – someone had to keep a paycheck and benefits until he found his way again. After two long years, he has a terrific new career and position. But those two long years in a place I no longer wanted to be doing a job I no longer wanted to do were tough. We decided it was time for me to step off the edge of the cliff, so to speak, and do what I’d been dreaming of doing for a long time – working for myself and making more time available to raise our daughter and support her needs. It’s been a slow process of starting up, for sure, but even so we know it is and will be worth it in the long run.
    A very timely post – thanks for sharing your story! We just never know the reasons why things happen until much later.

    1. I so appreciate you sharing your story, Lisa. I love the quote from John Smith. How true. We often don’t understand why we have to go through the difficult struggle in the actual moment of the struggle; but then, just when we need it, the light shines and it becomes clear why we did. Those are precious moments. It sounds like this is what happened when your husband lost his job. Again, thanks for sharing this, and glad it was a timely message for you.

  19. Thank you for sharing. I too was placed in remedial classes between the second and third grade. I remember the same whispers beneath my classmates’ breath just as you do. I wasn’t diagnosed with a learning disability, but that’s beside the point. Now, as a student I feel as though I’m disadvantaged and humiliated when my classes and exams in a STEM curriculum are so difficult.

    You make good points about how these struggles can have a satisfying end result, as well as sharing this with others. Often, I feel as though I am the only one struggling with a certain concept. Yet, when I speak with a friend/classmate, I can find help as well as someone who also isn’t perfect.

    Please share more for us. Hope your book is successful.

    1. Thanks Dillon! I appreciate your kind words and your story. Yea, it’s easy to feel that we are the only one’s who struggle… but then, we meet others and hear their stories, and we realize we are not alone, and, in fact, can learn from each other.

  20. I’m having tough times right now. I’m currently working in a research lab and not happy with how things are going. I just submitted my resignation since I can’t take anymore how the ugly and stagnating culture in the laboratory. To make matters worst, our head removed me as a co-author of the paper we wrote after I submitted my resignation. Pretty insulting really, and to add insult to injury, they gave me a tons of work that is not in line with what I’m doing. Really insulting! They really planned to put me down and insult me. I’m really having tough time. All I’m thinking is revenge but of course it won’t do any good and will just complicate things.

    But I can’t really think right now. Felt like my world stopped. I can’t even concentrate on my studies. It’s really affecting me, how I think, almost everything. Even my health, I feel like I’m getting sick. Any advice, specific steps to make.

    I’m really having difficult time dealing with annoying people.

    1. Rico – Thanks for sharing so honestly. I am deeply sorry to hear of your situation at work. As you mentioned you submitted your resignation (which I think was a smart move), but do you have something else lined up? Truly our work environment – the kind of people we are around and the type of management – can make or break a person. I hope and pray you will find a new environment that is healthier and productive. Your health is much more important than work.

      As far as steps to take, I would:
      1. Find a new work environment (which it sounds like you are taking steps). Are you working and going to school?
      2. Identify what type of work/research you want to do and take steps toward that. Perhaps you could write out some goals and work toward those, and share them with a few trusted friends who can help you or perhaps know people you can connect to that have job leads, etc.
      3. Surround yourselves with positive people. It sounds like these negative people in the lab are not the best to be around (obviously!)

      If you need to share further or have other questions, don’t hesitate to email me at davejarnold16@gmail.com. I’m happy to help if I can.

      1. Hi Dave, thank you for the advise. I’m on my last week now of work. I was able to talk to my boss and discuss things, what I felt about what they did and my feelings at work. I told them I was frustrated and disappointed about how things work out after I submitted my resignation. I also managed to talk to my 2 co-labmates and talk about things especially what I felt about our relationship at work. I told them about what I felt, and told them I was offended by some of their actions. I apologized too in case I’ve done something wrong to them.

        I only need to talk to one of my labmates, the one I’m direct conflict with. I’m hoping for an honest discussion and hoping it will turn out well. I want to fix things too before I leave the laboratory. Fixing relationships is more important to me over work.

        Thanks for the advise.

        1. Rico – you are certainly welcome. Glad to know you’ve taken some steps in this…. and you are right, fixing relationships is more important than work. Thank you for sharing this with me.

  21. Such an inspiring story Dave. Made me recall my intense struggling times in home and at work. I’m a kind who never gives up. So I can well relate to it, particularly being broken several times.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hey Sabita – Thanks for your comment and encouragement. And thanks for the email, too. I sent you a reply. Keep going and don’t give up – this is so important. That’s how you will thrive and grow and do amazing things. God bless you.

      1. Thank you so much Dave.

        I strongly believe these struggling times are a part of God’s plan to glorify His name through us becoming victorious. Your response has increased my faith in God even more.

        I hope the struggles give me the strength to achieve financial healing through God’s power.

        God bless you Dave!

  22. Beautiful post that is very inspiring! Great to hear that after your struggles you became the person that you are today. My struggles have always taught me to work harder and be determined to reach my goals.

  23. Hi Dave – thank you so much for sharing your story and words of encouragement. I have been having a bad day, everyday for years. I am the type of person who shuts down unfortunately and believes that it is only me who suffers.

    I am not a writer but decided one way to ease my pain was to write about it. I am so ashamed that I write it in the third person but thanks to you I now am not so afraid.

    Reading articles like yours have helped me tremendously to look at life differently and to know that sometimes things happen for a reason even though it is so hard when you are in the situation. It is truly hard to see the sunshine when the rain is pouring.

    1. Wow, Rose, thanks for sharing this with me. I too have found writing about pain and hard stuff helps to process it. It’s a great way to process it and see it in a different perspective. I am so glad this article helped you. God bless you in your journey. Keep on!

  24. Struggle is a good sign we are pushing ourselves and learning new things. Too many of us, me included at times, have avoided something that might make us struggle. We choose to pick the well worn path and not grow. ” Struggle pushes us out of ourselves and helps us see things differently.” Embrace the struggle we have it will lead us to something better as you point out!

    Thanks Dave!

    Tom

  25. Struggle is a refining fire it is sooooooo unpleasant. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful, but for those who endure it, will be rewarded with a harvest of good habits.

  26. Im still going through the struggle of finding myself. I try many things thinking it will be good this go round but it never ends up that way. It just makes me wonder am I just never gonna amount to anything or have I just not found my niche. It’s hard everyday. I cry and ask the Lord why is it so hard I just want to feel like I belong and I’m making a difference. I’ve gone through depression over this & anxiety. It’s been tough. I just want to know my purpose and forfill it.

    1. Krista – Thank you so much for sharing this with me. I too have cried out to the Lord and asked, “Why is it so hard?” Life is hard. It’s disappointing… but with Christ there is always hope. There may not be answers always. Jesus did say, in fact, “In this world there is much trouble.”
      Hang in there. If you’d like, feel free to email me and I am happy to connect further: davejarnold16@gmail.com
      God bless.

  27. Thank you so much Dave. I have a learning disability as well, when I started to become separated from class I was often bullied a lot because of my identity. My resource teacher was really helpful, Ms. Doyle I will never forget her, she was so supportive. She always told me not to give up on my dream. My struggles have helped me pursue singing professionally. I now have a few music videos out, and I know for a fact that I will never give up on my dream.-Melody Starr

  28. Thanks for this, Dave. I really appreciate your insight.

    I really resonated with what you said about everyone having problems. It’s a good reminder when we’re feel down trodden and then look around and think everyone else has it all together and is doing perfectly fine. This reminds me of my new favourite quote:

    “I’m not okay, you’re not okay, and it’s okay!”

    Thanks again,

    Julia Kristina
    http://juliakristina.com/blog

  29. Hi Dave,
    I have had much experience with struggle and want you to know that I appreciate your take on struggle as an opportunity to grow. My Grandmother used to say ‘pressure makes diamonds’ and when things have been very challenging I cling to the thought that I am just growing another facet. (smile) Thanks for sharing your life wisdom. Peace and Blessings

  30. Dave,

    What an amazing article. To answer your questions about struggle. My personal struggles have certainly forced me out my comfort zone. In some cases it exposed me as the deceiver I was, which forced me to reconcile that with myself and those I hurt. It truly was a gift, which I didn’t truly receive until much later. I had to grow and understand, but I am certainly a better man for it. I love the quote about it never being too late to become what you could have been. I love it! Life continues…as we keep pressing.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Hank G

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