Handle Hard Better

“So make yourself a person that handles hard well. Not someone that is waiting for the easy. Because if you have a meaningful pursuit in life, it will never be easy,” said Kara Lawson, Duke Women’s Basketball Coach. 

Watching the video of Duke’s women’s basketball coach speaking the words above really moved me. It also brought me back to my volleyball-playing days at Cal. Our coaches and professors certainly prepared us for life after college, but Coach Lawson’s advice was a bit more direct, hard-hitting, and honest. If you have not seen it yet, it is a very worthwhile three minutes of your time. The quick summary is that she talks about life not getting easier once we have arrived at a specific place in life, but instead more challenges come our way and we need to have developed the ability to handle things better. 

This sentiment hits the nail on the head for me. I can think back to being a junior in high school with a rigorous school schedule. On top of the standard classroom and social activities, I was playing school and club volleyball and basketball. My days were packed from 7 am to 11 pm most days, including the weekends. I loved it, but remember believing when I am a high school senior things will get easier. Nope, it didn’t. I think back to college and being a student-athlete, where we were training hard, traveling, and dealing with the rigors of college and I just knew the working life would be easier when I had just a 9-5 job and only worked five days a week. Nope, this wasn’t the case, especially working in Silicon Valley. 

And the story goes on and on. When I’m married this will be easier, when the baby turns one that will be easier, when I achieve a certain work title, or, when my salary reaches a certain level when I retire, it all gets easier. Nope, not true. New challenges come. Bigger obstacles are thrown at you. Those earlier experiences were just preparing you for bigger moments. 

Life is not about getting to a certain place and saying I’ve arrived and telling yourself that you can relax  I think if we are intellectually honest, very few of us would want the easy route. If you feel like you have achieved many of your goals it’s probably time to set more and even loftier ones. Your goals don’t stop just because you reached a certain age, level in your organization, or a specific number in your retirement savings. I would argue that your life would have little meaning if you stopped thinking about what is next. We need mental and physical stimulation and life goals to point us in the right direction.   

The concept of the arrival fallacy is similar to thinking about life getting easier. The Harvard-trained psychology expert, Tal Ben-Shahar, came up with the term. He describes the arrival fallacy as “this illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness”. The cliche ‘life is not a destination, but a journey’ is so very true. You need to enjoy the journey, in all its glorious ups and tragic downs. 

There is a good amount of research about achievement, specifically your salary not equating to happiness once it reaches a certain level. There might be a short-lived bump in happiness after a purchase, but possessions don’t translate into lasting happiness. Similarly, with personal and  professional goals we set for ourselves, we believe once we run a marathon in less than four hours or we achieve our vice president title we will be happy. The arrival fallacy debunks that myth. Professor Ben-Shahar’s solution is to reframe your goals to avoid an anti-climax. It is critical to keep setting more goals as opposed to reaching the finish line and saying I’m finished. 

So how can all of us handle hard better

  1. Show up every day and face down hard

Avoiding hard, sweeping it under the rug, and blaming other people is easy. Looking hard in the face and telling yourself you are going to deal with it and taking daily steps to move beyond is critical. Don’t withdraw in tough times. The problem will not go away. It will continue to come up over and over again and likely get worse. It is vital that you also make sure to recognize your emotions. These feelings can range widely on any given day – mad, sad, frustrated, whatever it is. Once you are ready to take on the hard, make positive steps each day to tackle this challenge, and make sure to look back at the progress over weeks and months to recognize where you came from.

  1. Try different approaches

Oftentimes when I’m feeling stuck or at a crossroads, it is because I’m repeatedly trying the same strategy to fix the problem. If the approach you took the last time didn’t work, change it up. Move out of your comfort zone. Talk with a trusted friend and get their perspective about the situation, so you can bounce ideas off of one another. Keep at it with your challenge. Make sure you are not dwelling on the mistake or problem. That will get you nowhere. Stay positive that the next approach will work. And even if you are only seeing increments of improvement, push forward. Progress is happening, just not as fast as you likely had hoped.

  1. Knowing “tomorrow” will be better 

There are many ups and downs at work – economic uncertainty, layoffs, new bosses, and beyond. You have experienced tough situations before and guess what, you are here today and stronger because of it. Think back to past experiences and how you pushed through and are that much stronger and more resilient. You are tenacious, strong, and have the conviction that when you wake up tomorrow it will be a new day.

In closing, I’ll leave you with a few of Coach Lawson’s words, “Because if you have a meaningful pursuit in life, it will never be easy”. Find that pursuit in life, pursue it with gusto in good times and bad, and know that your life will have meaning beyond your wildest imagination. 

One response to “Handle Hard Better”

  1. Debbie,
    I love that speech and love how you translated it to our every day life. One thing I will add, which I share with my customers as well, enjoy the journey! Find the joy in the every day tasks, because there is always joy to be found!

    Liked by 1 person

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