35: Love the struggle

My 35th year in review.

I’m 35! Luckily, the roller-coasters of entrepreneurship and parenthood don’t really let things drift accidentally out of perspective, only to be thrust upon one at yearly anniversaries. The sense of mortality, obscurity, youth vs age, and passing opportunity never get taken much for granted these days… I have the luxury of insomnia and feeling like a grain of sand in a big universe on a pretty much daily basis. And I feel exactly 35 right now. Honestly, it feels great. Bring it.

My tradition since turning 30 has been to come up with a motto for the year. Previous years include: Higher Highs and Lower Lows, Double Down, No Problem, Frugal to the Max, and last year was Cultivate the Core. They’ve all had personal meaning to me, and more than anything capture my frame of mind at the moment.

This year I have decided on the motto: Love the Struggle.

Being a new parent is a struggle. Starting a new business is a struggle. Staying with your values and staying healthy and keeping a good perspective and a calm mind is a struggle. Struggling is good. It is one of the only things that exercise the deep well of will and vitality within us. That help us dig into ourselves deeper, that push us to grow.

Love the struggle, as much as it sometimes feels like a pain in the moment.

I read this in a parenting book today:

“Kids repeadedly set their sights on something they can’t yet do. Many fuss, cry, and make loud noises while they struggle. Some work for a while, take a break, and come back to the task at hand–until they either succeed or give up. Most persist until they eventually figure out how to accomplish their goals.

Parents play an important role in children’s struggles. We can provide the vision and the optimism that struggle does lead to success and offer support while children are trying to learn something on their own.

Yet parents who are uncomfortable with struggle may find themselves wanting to avert their children’s frustration. Your ten-month-old daughter is struggling to fit that wide blue plastic letter into the slot of her mailbox, and you feel tempted to help her just a little–to guide her hand, to help her do it faster. For many of us, “successful” parenting includes protecting our child from having a hard time.

Yet ironically, interfering too much can actually make things harder for children in the long run. When we repeatedly intervene, we can take the struggle–and the victory–away from our kids.“

-From Becoming The Parent You Want To Be, pg 19

I remember my father bringing up in a regular family dinner one night that he feared that our lives (my sister’s and mine) were too easy. That we hadn’t had to fight for anything. That great people were never made out of easy lives. And it was true that ours were easy lives. We had privileged environments, good education, loving parents, confidence in our abilities, and opportunities to use them. But we hadn’t been tested. We hadn’t had to really work.

Less than a year later my father passed away from cancer. Fires rolled across the hills less than a mile from my bedroom window. And I was off to my first year of college. The 17 years after my father’s death have definitely been more strugglesome than the 17 years before.

Difficult is not bad though. Difficult is good. Difficulty and struggle have helped me more than hurt me. It’s the paradox of life, and business, and parenting. If asked at the time if I could reverse any of these struggles, I would most likely have opted into reversing them. And yet they have become the cornerstones of my life, the points that I was given a chance to step up and overcome and prove something to myself, and grow.

So, this is just a little reminder to myself as I try to do about twice as much every day as I have time to do, and have no plan on moving towards strugglelessness anytime soon.

If I focus on loving the struggle, I can stop resisting it and instead focus on thriving within it. Kicking struggle’s ass.

Today also marks the 3-year anniversary of taking a picture at 8:36pm every day. I actually started on May 22nd, 2008, but consider it a birthday-inspired project. I’ve now taken over a thousand photos at 8:36pm (1,096 to be exact, missing 5 days in the last 3 years). Here are some of the most interesting ones according to Flickr. Hover over the images for descriptions. I plan on doing this for the rest of my life.

And then there’s my yearly review of my “rules to live by”, which I’ve been editing since January of 2007.

  • You must not dilly-dally, so that your fears don’t trick you.
  • You must be your word, so that you speak confidently.
  • You must have good intentions, so that you don’t betray yourself.
  • You must admit to being the maker of meaning, so that you know what you’re getting.
  • You must not feel sorry for yourself, so that you do not become a martyr.
  • You must have a vision that you are striving for, so that you don’t get lost in incremental improvements.
  • You must tie creativity and experimentation with survival, so that you don’t take your work lightly.
  • You must be the change you want to see, so that you don’t blame others.
  • You must rally others with your vision, so that your ideas are tested.
  • You must stake your reputation on your better self, so that you become your better self.
  • You must be comfortable with the consequences of being who you are, both positive and negative.
  • You must share, so that your motivations remain clear.
  • You must make your own advice and take it, so that you trust yourself.
  • You must manage your stress, health, and clarity, so that you stay in balance.
  • You must study your mistakes, so that you dont’ take them too seriously.
  • You must retry things you don’t like every once in a while, so that your tastes grow.
  • You must make time to enjoy things, so that you have time to enjoy things.

For my present this year, I’d like you to donate something to Kiva, Donors Choose, Vittana, or 826 Seattle. Thanks!

· In these piles: self-reflection, year-in-review