❝That which does not kill us makes us stronger.❞ -Friedrich Nietzsche
I've got my popcorn in hand as I grab my seat in the theater. It's 40 years from now, and I'm gathering with my closest friends and family members to watch the story of my life.
As we watch the movie, one thing becomes painfully clear. I notice that there have been many challenges and struggles throughout my life. There have been stressful times. I've experienced painful losses. I've been angry, sad, frustrated, afraid, embarrassed, and envious.
As these scenes play out on the screen, I can't help but remember how awful I felt during those moments. I still feel some residual emotions as I watch, hoping my friends and family aren't judging me as they watch the movie. Past Me was angry when someone stole his idea, sad when he was burned out with no direction in college, frustrated when he couldn't figure out how to meditate, afraid of what would happen when he quit his toxic job, embarrassed when he got ripped apart during the question and answer portion of a presentation, and envious as he watched less qualified people thrive.
While watching the movie, I want nothing more than to go back in time to get Past Me out of those situations. Past Me did not want to experience the suffering. What he wished for was for an easy life. He wanted to be on Easy Street. He thought that perhaps Easy Street was just up ahead.
But Easy Street never came. The character in my life movie always had problems or hurdles to overcome. Then it finally occurs to me that I am who I am only because those things happened. I am stronger, smarter, more empathetic, more skilled, and more sympathetic because and only because I had the opportunity to overcome challenges.
Everyone seems to wish for a life without struggle, but a meaningful life is meaningful because of struggle.
ADVERSITY IS GUARANTEED
In the middle of stress, it's common for many of us to long for a life where we don't have to deal with all the things we have to deal with. We hope for a life that's free from stress. Given a choice between option A that is full of adversity, and option B that is free from adversity, many people take option B.
Many people have this view of retirement. They think if they can just hurry up and make it through their working years, they won't have to work anymore. They will be able to simply sit on a beach all day long watching the ocean or simply spend all their time golfing.
The problem with this view is not simply that it's wishful thinking. The bigger problem is that this wishful thinking is quite literally impossible. We are faced with the human condition. What it means to be a human is to come face to face with problems...over and over again.
Wishing otherwise sets us up for disappointment.
SENSITIVITY TO ADVERSITY
If you pause for a moment to think about this world without adversity, you'd quickly realize that it's not one that you would really want.
When I was growing up, there was a video game called Super Mario Brothers, which was a game about a plumber whose objective was to rescue a princess from a turtle. It was a pretty fun game. You had to navigate your character, Mario, from the left side of the world to the right side of the world while avoiding holes in the ground, turtles that were trying to kill you, plants that were trying to eat you, and little mushrooms called goombas that we wanted you dead.
Now imagine the same video game with no obstacles. You simply ran Mario from the left side of the world to the right side of the world. Nobody would play this game. It would be boring.
Similarly, you wouldn't watch a movie or read a book about a person who was happy all the time and didn't have anything to figure out. Nor would you want that to be the story of your life as you look back.
Furthermore, if there were a world without adversity, we would become more sensitive to adversity. Just like a world without germs doesn't allow us to develop a healthy immune system, a world without adversity wouldn't allow us to develop a psychological immune system.
To build a healthy psychological immune system and make ourselves less sensitive to adversity, we should want more problems to solve.