Because I have a fairly lengthy commute each day, I listen to a lot of podcasts. On the recommendation of a friend, I have lately listened to Criminal, which is gripping in both its tone and content. One episode, Unexpected Guests, is about how sometimes people show up in unexpected places.
As I was listening, I tried to think of whether I’ve encountered such surprise guests. After consideration, I realized that I was the unexpected guest. During a time in college when I didn’t have a place to stay, I ended up sleeping in a few places where I may have surprised someone. In particular, I spent several nights at a storeroom in a library where I worked for a period of time. This involved some sneaking in at night and out in the morning, and there were quite a few close calls and times when I had to pretend it was my business to be there.
Though that wasn’t a pleasant time, it benefited me in a long-term way. I don’t think I will or can ever take for granted having a place to sleep at night. Though it has been many years since that time, I still think about how grateful I am to be safe and secure each evening.
Adversity is a gift. Every hard thing we do offers the opportunity to make us more grateful, stronger, and more empathetic to those who aren’t was well off as we are.
I know parents who look at the world differently because their children faced challenges. I know students who take their education seriously because it wasn’t a given that they would receive such. And I know athletes who take care of their bodies because of injuries they have overcome.
One of my favorite interns, a truly remarkable woman, was a bit of an enigma to me. How, I wondered, could this woman not already be well on her way to a successful career when she was in her mid-twenties? After I felt comfortable that she would not be offended, I asked her this question: “How is it that you are not already finished with school?” After a long pause, she responded, “I had to hit rock bottom first.” Without any more detail, I understood all that was unspoken.
Bearing weight makes us stronger. Confronting fear makes us braver. Having less makes us grateful for plenty.
I have never believed in the myth of the self-made man (or woman). Everyone who has achieved anything has received help of some kind, even if it was just a word of encouragement or challenge. Having said this, I think there are folks who have done a lot to overcome challenges of all kinds and these people are stronger for it.
There are also those who take on hard things voluntarily in the interest of becoming better. I have a friend who, just yesterday, put herself through a tough workout early, worked a full day, and took care of matters at home including dinner and children’s bedtime in the evening. No one would blame her for settling in for the night and getting to bed early herself. Instead, she followed her marathon training plan with a run into the night. If you want to do what others cannot, you must do what other will not.
Challenge makes us better people. Whether that challenge is thrust upon us or something we seek, meeting the challenge is a way of saying, “I am willing to pass up what’s easy to find what is meaningful.” When we accept the gift of adversity, we are rewarded with the gift of growth.