“Life is hard!” It was such a relief when I first heard that. Until then, I had believed that life was hard because of some internal flaw and I was to blame. When I hit a bump in the road my internal message was, “I am such a mess.” I had entirely missed the message that “Life is just messy.” From my vantage point, all those other people were perfectly happy, enjoying wonderful vacations, and doing meaningful work because they had it together; not that they had found ways to triumph over the messiness of life.
Struggling is Not an Error—It’s Built into the System
The day we are born, we are signed up for a roller coaster ride filled with ups and downs. Being human is struggling, making mistakes, being embarrassed, scraping our knees, and bloodying our egos. This realization totally flipped my world view. And on top of that, mistakes are how we learn. They are a good thing.
It was so exciting to finally get it that I wasn’t alone. I was part of a community of people who fall down, have shitty relationships, experience shame, get divorces, and have financial difficulties—and somehow get to the other side and survive. And maybe even thrive.
Why do so many of us let the delusion that we are defective keep us from flourishing? And, an equally intriguing question, why do some of us—with the same number of neurotic tendencies, lost car keys, bad hair days, and self-inflicted injuries—get up each day, send out some gratitude for what we learned the day before, and begin again?
One explanation is that we’ve grown up with the myth of the individualist; that we are supposed to be perfect, not make mistakes, and not suffer disapproval. And if we do, we should go inside and give ourselves hell!
Becoming Patient with Ourselves
It’s so funny, in a way, that we believe this about ourselves, but we don’t believe it about our kids. When we send those little guys out on the T-ball field for the first time, we expect their coaches to do just what their name implies: coach them, not flagellate them. As a matter of fact, if we observed a coach telling one of our aspiring ballerinas or baseball players that they are just no good and never will be, we would raise holy hell!
The Gifts of Crisis
But here we are, in the midst of a pandemic, and we can no longer ignore the suffering of the world, or that we are all in this together. The world is pushing our faces into the truth of our fragility. The gift of this crisis is that we can see clearly that it is not due to some personal failing on our part, or their part, but a part of the tragic comedy of being human.
So, the next time you blame yourself for the chaos in the world and in yourself, know that you are not alone, and it isn’t your fault. Life is just like that and you are an incredibly brave and brilliant creature to have survived at all.
And remember these words from Friedrich Nietzsche: “One must have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.”