I’ve just come home from a trip to Finland. Such a beautiful place despite the harsh winters they experience. It got me thinking about how hardship often leads to growth. And that is what I want to chat briefly about this week in Soul Food Nibbles.
Hardship leads to Growth
Shannon and I are just back from a few days in Finland. My son Dylan is in Jyaskyla studying. Everything is so much more efficient out there. Their public transport systems are amazing. And even significant snowfalls, ice and generally harsh weather conditions don’t stop them! I mean, we get a handful of snowflakes here and the whole network grinds to a halt.
It got me thinking. Clearly because they get such difficult winters, they had to improve. They had to come up with solutions to keep transport systems working. To keep life moving despite the hardship. So clearly the hardship leads to growth.
Without the need for innovation and solutions to the wintry weather, perhaps the transport system wouldn’t be as slick. Perhaps without the icy conditions, the people wouldn’t be so hardy.
Dylan spent some time up in Rovaniemi in Lapland. He was telling us about how they are completely self sufficient up there – because they have to be. They grow their own food. They rely on the reindeer for farming, business and food. It is a hard way of life but they are happy. They have all that they need. It really inspired him – in fact he said we was the happiest he had ever been, just being in their company.
Isn’t that beautiful? Hardship doesn’t have to lead to stress. The people innovate. Solutions come. Growth happens.
The Lobster Story
We are the same. When life throws us hardship we have the opportunity to grow. If everything was just fine and dandy all the time, then we would never change. Much like a lobster!
Many years ago, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski talked about how lobsters respond to stress and what we could learn from them. In order for a soft, mushy lobster to grow, it needs to undergo a painful and vulnerable growth process several times in its life.
A lobster grows inside its rigid shell until it becomes confining and uncomfortable. When it becomes too painful to tolerate, the lobster hides under rocks. It casts the shell away and grows itself another one. This bigger one will eventually get too tight again. The pain of the lobster becomes unbearable, so it repeats the process.
The stimulus for the lobster to grow is the unbearable discomfort of its current situation. It goes through pain and it becomes vulnerable so that later on it could grow.
Humans are the same. When we face adversity we have the opportunity to grow.
However we don’t all face adversity in the same way. Some of us use it to grow and to find solutions for our problems. Others use it to defend their inaction and allow themselves to be victims of it. There are no rule books. Life throws each of us challenges and problems along the way. It is up to us to decide how to handle them.
It’s not always easy. Sometimes we feel like the world is out to get us. I’ve had my fair share of adversity along the way too. And I didn’t always choose to handle it well. I have allowed myself to feel like a victim on many occasions. It is often only when we look back that we can see the silver lining. Or we can see that the adversity has allowed us to become who we are today.
There are no mistakes in life. Everything teaches us something. We are always exactly where are meant to be – even if that place feels difficult or uncomfortable.
I like to think these challenges are opportunities for growth. The lessons may be painful. We may not always see the adversity as a lesson at the time. But when you get into the habit of asking, “What is this trying to teach me?” – rather than “Why is this happening to me?” – you switch from victim mentality into a more empowered place.
A Mindset Shift
None of us ask for adversity. And it sometimes seems so completely random and awful. For example we have the tens of thousands of people in Turkiye and Syria who have lost their lives. And the hundreds of thousands who are displaced and affected by the recent earthquake. We have wars going on, hunger, poverty and disease. Nobody asks for this.
We all collectively experienced the global pandemic and the resulting lockdowns. Not to mention the damage to our mental and emotional wellbeing. And the damage to our physical health. Yet for many it sparked an awakening. A realisation that there was more to life than the old “normal”. A deep understanding arose of the need for more love, kindness and compassion. Innovation and growth resulted in many businesses. The hardship led to growth.
Empowerment and Human Spirit
The human spirit is amazing. You can see it in the way people respond to natural disasters. Helping each other. Choosing to grow from the hardship. Making choices to be kind. To help each other.
Ultimately we all have a choice in life. We can choose to allow the hardship to harden us. To victimise us. And to disempower us. Or, we can choose to grow. We can take radical responsibility for our lives and make changes. Finding innovative ways to get around or through our problems. Making changes to our living or working conditions when they aren’t working out for us.
Some doors close and others open
As life gets difficult sometimes doors slam in our faces. We can think that we are trapped and have no way out. But this is not the case. We always have choices. Our mindset is the most powerful tool at our disposal. And when we are forced into an uncomfortable situation that is when we can truly empower ourselves. To find new doors to open. Being brave enough to take the next step.
We don’t always know our destination. We may need to hide under a rock for a bit until our new shell grows. But we have made the move.
We have stepped out from the pain and moved towards a better place. Just like last week, we have stepped out of the comfort zone. And as a result, we have grown.
So be radically honest with yourself now. What hardship or adversity is present in your life? And what is it teaching you? Are there changes you need to make?
I’ll leave you with those reflections and I will be back again next week with more Soul Food Nibbles.