What Hard Times Teach Us

While difficult times can feel like a deep dark hole that we can’t escape and we often wonder “Why is this happening to me?”, there is a silver lining to tough times. It’s through difficult times in our life, that we are able to grow. It’s when we are tested that we are able to rise, push through and come out the other side stronger, braver and better.

No one wants to struggle. No one wants to even admit their struggling. We all want to have Photoshopped versions of our own lives that fit perfectly into an Instagram square. But life does not work like that. Every one of us will be faced with a variety of tough times in their life. It is one of the few things we can really count on.

The truth is, there are some important lessons in life that we are only taught through difficult times and they can become the silver lining to the darkness.

The COVID-19 pandemic we’re all living through is scary and life-changing. It’s one of those things we’ll tell our grandchildren about—on par with the way life changed during world wars or the Great Depression. It’s bigger than a lot of previous social shifts, not only because of its tragic outcomes, but also because it’s affected so many of us at once and changing every aspect of life from the most significant (work, income, health) to the mundane (the availability of basic products).

Hard times like this create an opportunity for new thinking. If the size of the crisis is associated with the amount of new learning it can generate, surely our brilliance will be magnified many-fold when we emerge in the new normal. 

New and expanded points of view are generally a good thing. In fact, the roots of the word “emergency” come from the Latin “emergere” meaning to rise up or out. Here are a handful of lessons we’ll surely learn—building our capabilities for the years to come:

Lessons in Finding Perspective

Patience. I read of someone who used to say, “Push your patience button,” when his toddler son was getting antsy. This is certainly an opportunity to learn to do the same for yourself. Whether you’re hoping for your work to return to normal, waiting for the quarantine to lift or just holding out until you can eat in your favorite restaurant again, patience is the name of the game. It’s true that patience is a virtue—and you’re developing it now. 

The Long View. With a narrow perspective, current reality can be even more challenging, but by taking a longer-term view, you can reassure yourself that current realities will shift, and good things will come—ultimately—from today’s experiences and lessons.

Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone else planted a tree a long time ago.

Warren Buffet

A study by Boston University School of Medicine found a sense of longer term purpose in the children of centenarians contributed to wellbeing. We are part of a cataclysmic time. When I was a little boy, I thought history was something that happened to other people. The lesson—that living in this period is part of a greater whole of history—and we will get through it.

Lessons in Resilience and Response 

Adaptability. This is a time when everything feels out of balance and uncertain. You are constantly having to reset and re-orient. Just when you’ve adapted to your company sending you home to work, you have to adjust to a pay cut. Or just when your partner has been furloughed from work, you have to adjust to your children’s school being cancelled for the remainder of the academic year. Constant change can be disorienting, and this is hard both mentally and emotionally. Research shows that resilience is enhanced by having a clear view of reality, a sense of meaning and an ability to improvise. In addition, according to professor de Weerd-Nederhof of the University of Twente, resilience is both a personality trait and a skill. Hard times may be easier if it’s part of your character, but it’s also a competence (a muscle, really), you can develop through today’s challenging times.

Creativity. A colleague says working from home is especially distracting because of all the chores she is reminded she must do. Her hack is to do micro-tasks while she’s on breaks from meetings. At the same time she’s grabbing another cup of coffee, she will wipe furniture, or during her lunch break she’ll fold a bit of laundry. Your hacks may be more sophisticated—perhaps you’re finding new ways to entertain the kids with creative activities, or you’ve found a breakthrough new solution to a problem you’ve been trying to solve at work. Regardless of whether it’s a simple hack or a significant innovation, challenging times which force you out of your typical routines can be a boon for creativity. Embrace your new ideas and leverage your expanded perspectives in the new days ahead.

Lessons About Community

Connections. Nothing is automatic anymore and you can’t just run into people at the coffee shop on your way to work or the work café over lunch. On the other hand, you’re learning just how important friends and coworkers are. According to Susan Pinker in The Village Effect, we are wired for human connection. When we have to put more effort into maintaining relationships, we learn just how important they are. You likely have the opportunity to find new ways to stay in touch whether through video conference, text chains or even shouting across the street to neighbors as you respect physical distances. New research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology also reveals staying connected via social networks or microblogging can be good for your mental and emotional health. However you choose to link with others is up to you. The lesson is in the importance of strong relationships.   

Gratitude. Being grateful for everyday things and people is critical to happiness. This is a time when you can expand your gratitude many-fold. Whether you’re appreciating the companionship of a pet, extended time with family or the bond you’re building with coworkers through shared tough times, there are plenty of opportunities to be grateful. You can also be especially grateful for healthcare and other essential workers—not to mention the people whose roles you are trying to emulate—teachers, childcare providers or restaurant workers. When you have to do more for yourself, you realize how much you typically rely on those around you—and how meaningful their specialized skills and contributions are.

Going through difficult times happens. To find the light, we have to go through the darkness and while you’re in the midst of it, try to take a deep breath and remember that the lessons you are learning will shift your view of life. You will learn what matters, who matters, how strong you are and how lucky you are to exist.

That’s what going through difficult times teaches us and they are some of the most important lessons we can ever learn.

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