In my English classes, we have a unit called “Dealing with Difficulty.” One of the things we have found as educators is that students, from a very young age, don’t like to “deal” with the difficulty they confront in life. And it starts with the small stuff: the words they don’t know, concepts they don’t understand, allusions they have no frame of reference for. When they hit these parts of a text, they skip over them. They try to make sense of the piece using just the easy parts–and so their understanding is fundamentally flawed. They miss the big picture, the purpose, the ah, ha moment.
All because they didn’t want to deal with the difficulty.
We so often are just like my students. We skip over, hide, ignore the difficult pieces, so we never learn. We never grow.
We just keep making the same mistakes over and over again–because we skip the middle.
One of my favorite Ted Talks is by a lady named Caroline McHugh, and she puts it this way. Many of us claim to have years of experience, let’s say 20 years of experience, but in reality, we only have one year of experience 20 times–in other words, if we are not learning from that experience, we have gained nothing and are just repeating the same mistakes 20 years later, that we made at the very beginning.
Many people live life in this way, and it all comes down to difficulty: loss, failure, adversity.
Adversity seems to be the theme of my adult life. I’ve certainly had more than my fair share of it. Perhaps that is why I seem to have a heightened awareness of its impact–often wildly different–on people.
Adversity is a given–not a possibility, but rather an inevitability. It will happen. It’s just a matter of when.
Perhaps this is why adversity doesn’t really scare me. You can’t run from it, you can’t hide from it, and you can’t wish it away. It simply is–pretending any differently is just a waste of breath, time, and energy.
And yet it is what so many of us try to do.
We Americans like to photoshop our lives. We like things to be pretty. Wrapped up with a bow. Perfect and pristine.
But life is simply not like that. It is often ugly. And hard. And painful. It often isn’t fair. It’s often unjust. The good guys, quite frequently, lose.
Or at least in the traditional sense that is.
I don’t believe adversity, failure, loss, grief–difficulty in whatever form it takes, is loss.
I believe it is opportunity.
In the words of Brene Brown “the magic happens in the middle.”
But we so often want to skip the middle.
What does she mean? What’s the middle? Well let me explain it using an analogy that is very personally applicable for me right now. Divorce.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, everybody tends to react differently to a divorce. Many people want to jump very quickly from their former relationship, into a new one. They want to skip the middle. They want to move from brokenness straight into wholeness–but it doesn’t work that way.
The middle is hard. The middle is painful. It’s often lonely and it tastes a lot like failure. It is the place where our questions often don’t have answers and our fears loom large. It is where we question our worth and our value.
But it’s here in the middle where we learn. We learn what we did right and what we did wrong. We learn our areas of weakness and our areas of strength. We wrestle with our worth and come to realize that it does not come from another person, a talent, a career, or anything else outside of ourselves. Worthiness is a God given gift and it comes from who we are–or more aptly–whose we are.
The middle is like wrestling in the mud. You are going to get dirty. You will get beaten up. You’re going to feel every bruise, every scratch, every dagger to the heart.
And so most of us don’t want to go there. We like the safe, the easy, the pristine–and the middle is none of these things–so we will do anything in our power to avoid it.
Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal said this about adversity: “I don’t even know who a character is until I’ve seen how they handle adversity. Onscreen and offscreen, that’s how you know who someone is.”
Who are you?
Who am I?
In the face of adversity, how do we measure up?
The truth of that statement really zinged me, and it got me thinking about the different approaches I have seen to adversity. I know which one I am, which one are you?
The Ostrich: Do you have your head in the sand? Do you ignore your problems, pretending that, if I don’t acknowledge them, they’ll just go away?
The Coward: Do you run and hide from your problems? Do you leave a wake of broken relationships behind you, cutting people, jobs, connections off as the going gets tough?
The House of Mirrors (aka transference): Do you project your problems onto someone (anyone) else as a means of ignoring your problems? Is it always a case of the blame game? It’s his fault because…. It’s her fault because….
The Volcano: Do you avoid dealing with the real issues by hiding in anger? Does anger seem to be the the only emotion you’re feeling these days? Then you’re probably a volcano, using anger as a shield for your real problems.
The Damsel in Distress: Do you tend to expect a white knight to come riding up to “fix it?” Do you tend to wait for someone to come and save you from your problems? Do you think that if only…(x), then all of these problems will go away? Then you probably fall into this category.
The Peacock: Do you tend to magnify your strengths, your talents, your looks in an effort to minimize your failures? Do you puff your ego so you don’t notice the hits you’ve taken? Well, then you’re just going to keep taking those hits and you’re going to start looking like a weight lifter with chicken legs, developed in some areas, and tragically weak in others…
The Hermit: Do you cut off from everyone and everything? Avoiding life in an effort to ignore your problems? Do you hide in video games, tv shows, even books, in an effort to live in a different world to escape from your own? This category can often include those suffering from depression, in that depression, that completely disconnect.
The Scrapper: Are you a fighter? Are you willing to get down and dirty in your effort to overcome? Do you look failure in the eyes and determine to triumph? Then you are probably a scrapper and are in a pretty good place, learning from your set backs and overcoming difficulty. Congratulations–there aren’t too many of you out there!
No matter which role you tend to play, it doesn’t define you. The great part is knowledge–self awareness–is the first step in being different. You get to choose your role.
Don’t want to be a hermit?
Then choose to be a scrapper!
You can choose the role you get to play at any time, in every situation. It is all up to you.
Don’t know how? That’s okay! Check out my blog next week for the first installment on how to change the role you’re currently playing!