As humans we are preprogrammed to avoid pain and attract pleasure. It is hardwired into us and helped us survive and evolve over the years. But avoidance of pain isn’t always the best. Character is built through difficulty. Mistakes teach us important lessons. Our failure may be painful but we can come away a better, wiser person.
“We should remember that one man is much the same as another and that he is best who is trained in the severest school.” - Thucydides
“Men hate to be ‘orphaned,’ ‘widowed,’ or ‘worthless,’
But this is how kings and lords describe themselves.” - Lao Tzu from the Tao Te Ching
The reality is that our character isn’t solidified when things are easy and we succeed. Character is molded in those moments of adversity. When we hit those walls and have to persevere in order to overcome. We have to find a new way of doing things and expand our mind in order to get past the obstacle.
Yet we are not wired for this. We are wired to work only as hard as we need to in order to reach our goal. “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s heaven for?” - Robert Browning
How can we keep going, keep pushing ourselves, keep testing ourselves in order to grow to find our truest potential?
I played football throughout high school. The program was incredibly intense for a high school athletics program. We did extended conditioning and worked beyond what most of us thought was possible at the time.
By the end of two-a-day practices we were exhausted and ready to go home to relax. But there were a few individuals each day that had to stick around. They were on Koz List which meant they were being punished for something. They had to stick around for additional conditioning from Coach Kozar.
Nobody wanted to be on Koz List. Most of us played by the rules to avoid this at all cost. But inevitably we would be late for practice, or run the wrong play, or take too long at the water fountain linking us to the dreaded list.
I can recall a time when I was on the list. Initially I wondered if I could even do more sprints, or bear crawls, or laps. But we kept going. We kept working while everyone else was in the showers planning their evening. We kept working while most people sat on their couch watching TV or playing video games. We kept working until it seemed physically impossible. Then we kept working.
A strange thing started to happen. Koz List seemed to attract the same individuals each day. But those individuals who stayed to do the extra work actually started to get stronger. They started to adjust physically and mentally. Soon they were in better shape than most of the rest of the team.
I remember reading a story about Navy SEAL training. They had a similar penalty for those that didn’t win the boat race or those that had wrinkles in their clothes. The Navy SEAL telling the story had the same conclusion. Those that were on the dreaded penalty list were the ones growing the most. They were the ones that became the hardest fighters.
The question that often comes to me during times of adversity is “who are you outworking right now.” The idea that success or ease brings growth is inaccurate. We grow through tough times and by facing our fears head on and pushing forward. We outwork others in order to succeed. We do this continuously by addressing and improving our systems and habits.
The next time you find yourself in a difficult or painful situation. Remember that these are the moments we grow. These are the moments that force us towards improvement. The times when things are easy or the times we relax on the couch do not take us towards success. Success is awarded to those that face the hardest circumstance, those that overcome the greatest odds and those that continuously outwork others.