This summer we took a vacation to Colorado to visit family, packing in as much adventure as was humanly possible. As we don’t have any little kids, we were free to hit up excitement all day —no naps or strollers needed. Truly, this is a glorious phase to have left behind. I miss the cute little faces and chubby little legs but relish the freedom that pre-teen and teenage children provide.
We hiked in 100-degree heat to the top of a mountain, albeit a little one. I have a priceless picture of my son as he sat on a rock protesting that he couldn’t go any farther, with sweat running down his face and a look of despair. Of course, me sharing this photo would never be forgiven, so you will have to imagine what that scene looked like. Spoiler alert: he did go on and he did (briefly) smile for the obligatory photo of us triumphantly perched at the top of the mountain.
We took an easy horseback ride through Grand Junction, where another son demanded to get off the horse he was struggling to control. His horse was not getting along with the horse in front of him. Our guide said the horse had a difficult personality sometimes. I told my son that his horse was a perfect match for him. He was not amused, but he worked through it and did not get off the horse and finished the trail.
Surprisingly, the top-rated adventure by our family was a last-minute trip to an inflatable obstacle course on a lake. It was pretty comparable to the family version of the show “Wipe Out.” All of the adults jumped in the water with the kids and created a family competition to see who could make it all the way around the obstacle course without falling. The adults attempted to run across large super slick inflatable circles, bouncing off the plastic like rag dolls.
There was one inflatable climbing wall I could not get over, no matter how hard I tried. I took a running start towards it to catapult myself up and over, probably about six or seven times. Time and time again I ricocheted off the wall with a disastrous awkward splat or faceplant that made everyone laugh. I never did make it over, but it was worth trying. Maybe next time.
It was an exhausting and exhilarating struggle. Of course, all of the adults had bumps, bruises, and back pain the next day. The kids seemed completely fine. I don’t recommend beating your body up like that on a consistent basis, but I have to say there was something freeing about just going full force with something—really committing to it. As an adult, how often do we do that?
As kids, we used to play “don’t touch the ground” by scaling the built-in wall shelves; we catapulted any type of riding device down steep neighborhood streets with small children held captive; and rode random furniture down the stairs of our home, stopping ourselves by hitting a wall. We sought out excitement, creativity, and tested out theories with little worry of failure.
What is the one thing tying all of these stories together? Struggle. We set out with the intent to overcome something. Our vacation goal was to step outside of our comfort zone and open up our world to new experiences. When we decided to go on a trip, we all mentally signed up for this experience.
It is easy to agree to struggle in a beautiful or exotic location, isn’t it? Yes, we take vacations that are pure relaxation, but who needs to see another picture of someone’s legs and feet resting on the sand? Everyone wants to see or hear about something exciting to commemorate your adventure.
What we may not advertise as fervently, are our everyday struggles in the routine of regular life. These daily obstacles are uninvited trials that we may not see as quite so picturesque. Growing up, my biggest struggle was school. I was an anxiety ridden child who didn’t do great in anything that didn’t allow me to write my way out of it. My Spanish teacher told me that she would give me a C in the class if I promised not to take it next year. True story.
Essays saved me time and time again on tests. Or I relied on a last-ditch extra credit that involved my parents staying up late into the night with me to crank out a ridiculous project, like the perfectly calculated geometric string art of a rooster, affording me to squeak by with a barely passing grade in geometry.
It wasn’t until college, and honestly, the last two years of college, when I could choose the classes that interested me, that it started to click. School can also be a struggle for my kids at times, my daughter being the only exception to that rule. It never came effortlessly to me, and maybe genetically, it doesn’t for them either.
I don’t relish the struggle, nor do I wish hardship on my children, but at the same time, doesn’t a certain amount of struggle build resiliency? If we never struggle to obtain something, or don’t allow our children to struggle, is the reward received as rich and meaningful?
How do you feel about struggle in your daily life? Do you choose to do the hard things, or shy away? I think one of the best examples of this is sports. My son is on the cross country team this year. Sometimes, before practice, he will try to talk his way out of it: “It is summer, Mom! Why do I have to get up so early?” or “This is so hard, why can’t I quit?”
Maybe this will be his first and last year. The only rule I have is that he has to finish out the season; then, he can decide if he wants to take it to the next level. All of his belly aching is worth it when I pick him up from practice with a smile on his face and he tells me something new he accomplished. I couldn’t care less if he becomes a serious athlete; what I care about is his drive to overcome things he never thought he could do.
Another example would be my more introverted son, who braved a school trip to Washington D.C., knowing not a single one of his friends had signed up. I don’t think I have ever been prouder of him when he left his gaming headset behind for a week completely out of his control.
It is easy to see these concrete examples in our children and it is even easier to tell them, “You have to run four miles, do 50 pushups, and then 50 sit ups? No big deal, you got this!” —as we sit on the sidelines scrolling through our phones or wait in our cars with the air conditioning running. What about seeing the potential in ourselves? What challenges do we want to take on? It is easy to become complacent and focus on everything BUT our own personal growth. It is easy to fill our day, planning and “helping” everyone else do what we envision they should be striving towards. It is harder to really take a look at your own life.
Some struggles are best to walk away from and some struggles aren't a choice. No one chooses the devastating struggle of divorce, health issues, or the loss of a family member. If you think about it though, it is miraculous how some people can harness their personal battle for good. I have a family member who has one heck of a battle with Parkinson’s disease. And guess what she did? She brought an exercise class to town for Parkinson’s patients, started a support group that has helped hundreds of people over the years, and she battles on. Because of her struggles she has impacted so many people with hope and a heart for what they are going through.
I have thrown out a lot of different vantage points on the concept of struggle in this article. I don’t have the answers, a playbook for how to live life, or advice on what struggles you are currently battling, be it by choice or not. All I am offering up is the idea to shift your perspective and look at these life experiences through a different lens.
When I looked up the definition of struggle and what struggle means in our world today: it was synonymous with strength. The intended outcome of struggle = strength. As we head out of summer vacation mode, our “out of office” notifications start to dwindle, and we get back to business, consider your opportunities for strength in this next season of the year, and ultimately your life.