The Thing About Hard Things

“The most profound personal growth does not happen while reading a book or meditating on a mat. It happens in the throes of conflict—when you are angry, afraid, frustrated. It happens when you are doing the same old thing and you suddenly realize that you have a choice.” 

– Vironika Tugaleva

Of the many themes that inform our work here at Reboot HQ, it’s that we all have our own paths to walk. Moreover, there is no playbook. This is true for you in your life as much as it is in how you run your business. My co-founder used to say that if you want to be a great golfer, it doesn’t matter how many books you read on golfing. Books alone won’t make you a better golfer. The same is true for leadership. The hard things are opportunities for us to grow in our relationship to ourselves, and consequently, how we meet life.

No matter how many books you read, knowledge alone won’t make you a great leader, parent, person. Books will provide a great assist, but the real work happens in the moment, where the rubber hits the road, when life feels challenging, hard, sticky. The work (and subsequent change) happens where your nervous system (your programming) meets the environment (the stimuli that triggers your programming). Without navigating your own pathway of stimulus, self-regulation, and response, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve got stored in your intellect. 

When difficult things happen, they can feel hard and we may not have faith that our insides, or our inner landscape, the core faculties of our psyche, know what to do. (Ugh.) That’s often when we feel we need to reach for help from the pages on a shelf, or a post on the internet, or the latest podcast on the topic related to our situation. Some of us, in so reaching, search for the playbook–the definitive ‘What To Do.’ But, not everything written down is a one-size-fits-you-at-all solution. 

There’s no shortage of hard things we’ll encounter in our lifetimes and our own arcs of personal growth as humans. Sad things that leave us grieving. Changes that make us angry. Happenings that make us feel helpless or scared or stuck. A year like 2020 comes along and knocks everything off the table, or feels like a game of 52 Pickup in a hurricane. All these things strike the emotional cords that inform our very own experiences. How do we respond?

Sometimes, when hard things happen, or things feel hard, it can be most useful to reach inside for the core of who you are and what you know there. Where is your attention? What is happening for you? How activated is your nervous system? What are the sensations in your body doing? What thoughts are you having? How is your breath? An inquiry like this can be an anchor when the going gets rough, or your palms feel sweaty, or your heart feels so broken. Such an inquiry can lead you to your core–that intact part of you that knows things, too. Important things such as: What does this remind you of? What might you need right now? What does your gut say? What is your impulse for a next step? What potential choice makes you contract? What potential choice feels like a full-body “yes”?

There’s a cutting through that can happen when we’re willing to stand in the heat of the moment, or the depth of whatever we’re in and feeling. Part of this cutting through is reaching inward and finding the parts of us that have been there all along. The part of us that is unchanging, our fortitude, our resolve. A place with no BS, but a lot of who we really are. 

“Sometimes we just need to be with where we are terrified,” author Meggan Watterson writes. “And not ask the terror to leave or change. But dare to become the one who can hold it in a love that didn’t exist before it, a love that grew, and expanded in order to meet it.” I thought of that line as I reflected on this podcast conversation between Jerry and Marcus Anderson, author of The Gift of Adversity: Overcoming Paralysis and Pain to Find Purpose, who found himself, I believe, at a similar juncture when he was paralyzed. His choice point made all the difference. 

As the quote by author Vironika Tugaleva notes above, it’s in the throes of life that the most profound personal growth happens for us. When we have the presence of heart and mind in the midst of those moments, we can create the space to learn about ourselves and learn to navigate that–or any–situation differently. Hard things are best paired with our awareness and choice.