Suffering and adversity are bad things and should be avoided at all costs. At least this is what any rational person would say. No one goes out into the world asking themselves how to make their lives miserable.
But it’s hard to deny that overcoming hardship is often seen as a big inspiration for famous actors, writers and comedians. For some reason, they credit their talents to the difficulties they went through. But how much does hardship really matter?
Suffering and Creativity
One of my favorite writers is Edgar Allan Poe. If you know anything about his life, you know he suffered more tragedies than any other human being really should have to endure. To list just a few things, he was orphaned at the age of three, his foster father abused him and his first wife died at an early age. His most famous work “The Raven” was sold for only $9.
Despite these tragedies (or because of them), Poe wrote many magnificent short stories and poems. Many biographers give credit to the unfortunate events in his life as inspiration for what he wrote and you can see his tragedies reflected in his work. Today he is often considered one of America’s greatest writers.
Of course, this doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have written anything of quality without going through such terrible experiences. It’s difficult to say what he would have written if he never had suffered through such a long string of misfortune. It’s quite possible that what he would have written would have been just as good and maybe even better.
I know that Edgar Allan Poe is an extreme example. Most people don’t have to go through as many bad things as he did. Plus, for every person who has suffered as much as he has and done some amazing things, there are many others who had their lives collapse under the pressure. Just because someone experiences Poe’s level of adversity does not guarantee any kind of success.
It seems as if the hardship itself isn’t what matters, but the ability to overcome it. If the hardship is too difficult or troubling, the situation can drag you down into self-destruction. But those who have the power to overcome their hardships build great life skills such as self-confidence and critical thinking. These are qualities you can bring to other areas of your life, notably your ambitions.
One example of people who have used their challenges to great effect has been those who are left-handed. About 90% of the people reading this are right-handed (I’m right-handed too) so they might not realize how challenging things can be for a left-hander. From what I’ve been told, left-handed people describe their challenges mostly as nuisances or annoyances.
Many parts of the world are built with right-handed people in mind. Many items such as notebooks, school desks and power tools require the user to be right-handed. These are mostly minor difficulties, but still things that need to be overcome. So does overcoming these obstacles actually lead to more success?
There is some evidence that they do. Out of the last five US Presidents, three have been left-handed. That number goes up to four if you include Ronald Reagan who might have been ambidextrous. Taking into consideration that many of the people who ran against these presidents were also left-handed and it seems more than a coincidence. If you need more proof, consider that 20% of Mensa members are left-handed. Keep in mind that only 10% of the general population is left-handed.
Hardship Is a Good Thing?
According to a study done by the University of Buffalo, a little bit of adversity goes a long way. They surveyed a group of almost 2400 people repeatedly for four years and asked them about their current well-being and exposure to adversity. Surprisingly, those who reported more adversity and difficulties had better mental health and well-being than those who reported very little.
One of the reasons that adversity could make your life better comes from a simple fact of life: If you want to achieve anything difficult, you have to work hard to get where you want to be and deal with the setbacks along the way. This is why so many musicians, actors and writers have such hardship before making it big. It’s a part of the process.
Those who didn’t deal with any adversity likely stayed in their comfort zones and didn’t risk anything to make their lives better. Hardship is one of the unfortunate consequences of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. You can always avoid hardship by staying nice and comfortable with what you have, but you’ll probably miss out on what you want.
Avoiding all hardship and staying in your comfort zone might make sense to those who want to make their lives a little easier. But all you’re really doing is denying your goals and ambitions. This explains why those with the lowest adversity also reported low mental health and well-being.
What Doesn’t Kill You…
Enduring through a few years of hard times seems like a small price to pay in order to get where you want to be. But this is where the true tragedy lies – at least for those who try to avoid adversity at all costs. While the hardship itself can be seen as negative, the experiences and skills associated with overcoming them are very positive.
The good news is that you don’t need to suffer through all the anguish and tragedy that Edgar Allan Poe went through. And even though he’ll always be remembered most for his amazing writing skill, I think it is his ability to overcome those events and channel them into his writing that impresses me most.
photo credit: Aeioux