Adversity, hardship, and sadness. All these words have a lot of stigmas attached to them. Understandably so. After all, the bitter moments of our lives are the last things we would ever want to relive. We tend to see sadness as an obstacle to a happy life. Here, the thing most of us miss is that happiness is not the only thing that matters. We are built to experience a wide range of emotions, not just happiness. There’s a time to be sad. There’s a time to be anxious. A time to be joyous. This diverse set of emotional states is what gives depth and meaning to life.
Life is about balancing both the good and the bad, the joys and the challenges. Much like the ancient symbol of harmony, the Yin-Yang. In this context, the Yin represents all the hardships and the so-called bad experiences of our life. And Yang represents all the pleasant experiences of our life. Both of these go together and are essential for a fulfilling life.
The Taijitu/ Yin-Yang
This thought first came to my mind after I read the book “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch. Randy, was a professor of computer science. As the title suggests, the book is about the last lecture he gave to his students. Last, not because he was about to retire. Last, because of his imminent death. At the time, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, leaving him with just three to six months of good health. Despite being at death’s door, the lecture wasn’t really about death at all. Instead, it was about life. More importantly, how to lead life.
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that pleasant experiences make us happy. But, pain offers something more important than pleasure. It offers strength. The strength to endure and the opportunity to grow.
So, here is some advice from the lecture that will help in attaining strength from our struggles.
Brick walls are there for a reason
According to Randy, problems are like brick walls. The path to success is not a straight one. It has many twists and turns. And we find these walls at every turn. They are not there to keep us out. They are there to show us how badly we want it. The only way to get past these walls is by putting in the best we can. Success demands nothing less than 100%. Despite all that, there are two possible outcomes for our persistence. Either we succeed at getting what we wanted, or we don’t. This brings me to my next point.
Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted
It’s true. Despite our best efforts, there’s no way of guaranteeing success. It is by committing mistakes that we learn our biggest lessons. There’s no telling what we are good at without trying. This is why failing is more important than succeeding.
Through failure, we learn the important skill of giving up. Although statements like “Never give up!” sound motivating, they’re not entirely realistic. Yes, giving up without trying our best is wrong. But, there will be times where giving up and moving on would be the right thing to do.
Like, hoping 2020 will get any better.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.
The importance of being criticized
This is something that stuck with me the most. When you get criticized, it means there is someone who cares to make you better. If you’re doing a bad job and no one points it out to you, it means they have given up on you.
With that said, it’s also important to know the difference between criticism and ad hominem. While constructive criticism, be it harsh or polite, tends to provide a different perspective to improve on. Ad hominem, not so much. These range from just your everyday light-hearted trolls, personal attacks, to death threats. Nothing *too* serious. These tend to get your morale down (or up) depending on how uncreatively funny they are. So, try not to take them too seriously.
With all that said, it becomes apparent how the seemingly bad experiences that seem to take away from life have a lot more to give. This is why adversity is more of a gift than punishment. But, this doesn’t mean we go out seeking pain. Life seems to take care of when and how to send this gift. After all, it’s a gift from life and you can’t be the one choosing your gifts.
These were a few lessons from Randy’s last lecture. This lecture is packed with great advice and life lessons. If you would like to know more about it, you can either get the book “The Last Lecture” or watch the actual lecture by clicking here.