Life is hard and that’s a good thing

Updated to Life on April 11, 2023.

I have a hard time with people who sugar-coat the truth. 

I was on a webinar this week that promised to reveal the secret to becoming an author. Given that I published my book a decade ago I thought I needed a refresh.

Instead of advice, or sharing actual steps a first-time author could take, the hosts teased their audience (which, given the volume of rabid comments decorated with balloon emojis, seemed to be enormous) with an endless stream of vague superlatives like “Everyone has a book in them!” and “It can change your life!!”

Every few minutes, one of the hosts would take a break to wave a copy of a recent NYT bestseller in front of the camera or talk about a first-time author who was now an in-demand keynote speaker earning seven figures.

The underlying message seemed to be that if you “just write for 15 minutes a day!!” you will somehow overcome years of false starts and procrastination, complete and publish a book and magically join the 2% of authors who sell more than 5,000 copies (which might just pay for editing, design, cover, illustrations, and publishing costs.)

We are suckers for easy solutions to hard problems. 

** Writing and publishing my book took the better part of a year, cost thousands of dollars and, at times, was pretty stressful. I’m glad I did it and grateful for the doors it opened and to have sold so many copies (over 30,000 by last count.) But easy it was not.

** I started a side hustle, got a few clients, added employees, built a team, added more clients, and then sold that company five years later. It was a ton of work, with lots of missteps and painful lessons. I’m grateful for the experience and the very timely exit, but easy it was not.

** A year and a half ago I made a goal to run the Boston Marathon on my 65th birthday. I mapped out my training, put in the miles, changed my diet, stopped drinking, ran the qualifying marathon, and now, one month before Boston, I’m putting in the training miles all over again. Boston will be great and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved, but easy it was not.

If you want easy, sell everything, move somewhere warm, and learn to play pickleball. 

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” – Louisa May Alcott

If you want to fully experience life you need to fully embrace the challenge. “I am not afraid of storms,” wrote author Louisa May Alcott, “for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

Enter Hormesis

In medicine, the notion of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, or ‘no pain, no gain’ is called hormesis, from the Greek word ‘hormo’ meaning ‘to excite’. 

You experience a form of hormesis after a brisk walk, a ride on your bike, or a visit to the gym. The stress on your body rewards you with a stronger body, better balance, and more resilience to disease. 

You get the same benefit when you learn a new skill, read inspiring books, and practice new habits. The stimulus ‘excites’ your brain and, like a river, neural pathways are carved that increase your abilities in that area. And here’s the best part.

We all arrived with the hormesis software fully installed and updated. Like a plant waiting to be nourished, our body and mind are constantly waiting for the right stimulus needed to grow. “Only through experience of trial and suffering,” wrote Helen Keller, “can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

Do the work

If the solution to a challenge seems too easy, it probably is. “Difficulties strengthen the mind,” wrote Seneca, “as labor does the body.” Nobody built a successful business by reading a book and nobody wrote a good book by buying a course on book writing (or, for that matter, an online membership program.) It takes work. 

“Life is difficult.” – M. Scott Peck

“Life is difficult” is the first sentence of Scott Peck’s 1998 classic The Road Less Traveled and Beyond. It’s a blunt, in-your-face opening salvo to what is actually an inspiring book about life, learning, and personal enlightenment. But, wait for what comes next.

In the following four sentences, Peck pulls back the curtain on his first sentence and reveals what is perhaps the most inspiring and consistent theme of all philosophers from the Stoics to Nietzsche to Peck, himself. Life is hard and that’s a good thing

“This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

If you made it this far, here are the posts behind this post:
Small Wins – why little steps are the path to big rewards
Why I sold my company and lessons learned
Why you need to look back before you look forward
The bright side of my aging brain

Image from Rishikesh, India by author
Sailboat by Andrea Zignin on Unsplash