There’s more to suffering than building character and resilience
What is the benefit of hardship and suffering? To suffer is to be human, and we all suffer differently. The love of your life breaks your heart. Physical pain destroys your well being. You get cut from the team you worked so hard to make.
Where’s the silver lining to our hardships and suffering? We’ve all heard the term “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” It’s true — suffering and hardship can build resilience, perseverance, and toughness, traits all of us should seek.
But is that it? There has to be more to suffering other than “building resolve.”
My Bummed Toe
For over a year, I suffered from chronic foot pain. Every step I took resulted anywhere from mild irritation to excruciating pain. I tried everything from rest, new shoes, and physical therapy with no luck. Eventually, I elected for surgery.
I’m happy to report after a few grueling weeks post-surgery, things are looking up. But thinking back, was there any good to my chronic foot pain?
I try to find a silver lining when possible, but when it came to my foot pain, I was stumped. What good did chronic foot pain do? All it did was prevent me from doing the things I love to do for far too long, in addition to the mental stress related to the matter.
Dealing with the pain did in fact build resolve. Additionally, the foot pain limited what I could do, which forced me to develop other hobbies.
That’s great and all, but I’ve discovered there has been an even greater benefit as a result of my hardship.
Suffer to Support the Suffering
Before my foot injury, I did not know what it felt like to experience chronic joint pain. When I’d meet somebody suffering from joint pain, I couldn’t relate.
Now when I meet someone going through joint pain, I can relate.
This is huge.
The best way to understand what somebody is going through is to go through the same experience yourself. Difficult experiences create opportunities for greater empathy. Console others for what you’ve also experienced. This is powerful.
Think of your hardships as preparation to support others down the road. A personal breakup will help when consoling your friend going through their own breakup. Getting cut from a team or having been passed up for a promotion, in turn, will help you support others going through their own setback. Your physical pain will prepare you to help those going through their own physical pain.
If your entire life was smooth sailings, how could you support those going through hardship? Personal success and happiness are for the self. But when you experience suffering and hardship, think of it as the potential to benefit others down the road.
Paying it Forward
We should not seek out suffering. And we don’t have to — it’s inevitable. Take the words of Viktor Frankl:
“If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death.”
Take what is ineradicable suffering and use those experiences to be there for someone in need. If you’re only thinking about yourself, suffering can be miserable. But when you step out of yourself and see how you can contribute to the lives of others, you’ll realize suffering provides us all incredible opportunities for impact.
Use personal suffering to support the suffering of others.
Take today’s suffering and transform it into empathic support for someone tomorrow. Life is unpredictable, but through hardship, whether that’s physical, emotional, or spiritual, you’ll be better equipped to support the needs of others.
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