To Struggle Is To Be Human

As a psychologist I’ve had the privilege of listening to people’s stories for 20 years. That amounts to something.  And one thing it amounts to is this…the knowledge that we all struggle. 

And we don’t often talk about this, because we think people don’t want to hear it, and we think we shouldn’t be struggling anyway. We should all be happy right? This adds up to a collective delusion. 

It’s exhausting trying to be happy, successful, funny and interesting every day. It’s draining trying to live up to the ideal of a ‘happy life’. And we feel shame when we don’t, the shame of thinking we are flawed in some way. So we hide away in the emotional shadows, licking our wounds until we feel sufficiently composed for the glare of the world again. Concealing the challenges of the night before with a cheerful face. 

To struggle is to be human. I can’t put it more plainly than that.

We struggle with the need to do something meaningful with our lives. All the while unsure of our part in the scheme of things; our significance in it all. We struggle with the burden of choice…and trying to make the right one against a backdrop of uncertainty. We struggle to connect, to be seen and to be understood. We struggle not to be swallowed up by despair when hope deserts us. We struggle with the desire to make a mark; leave some legacy that shows that our lives were worth something. We struggle to manage the anxiety of knowing we are going to die.  

Hard as these are, we compound the difficulty when we buy into a cultural narratives of happiness which are hard to live up to. And berate ourselves when we fall short. Instead of saying 'it’s human to struggle', we tell ourselves 'its weak to struggle'. And feel much worse.

So next time you feel overwhelmed, helpless, scared, lonely, confused or uncertain, soothe yourself a little with the knowledge that you are not alone and there is no shame in your struggle. We all get to this place at one time or another. And thankfully, most of us manage to feel our way to happier moments.

And I, like you, know about these happy moments. But right now I’m speaking for those other times. The ones we don’t talk of so much. And this is what I want to say...

You will feel lonely, and when you do, reach out.

You will feel afraid, and when you do, keep going.

You will feel helpless, and when you do, take action.

You will feel lost, and when you do, have patience.

You will feel hopeless, and when you do...struggle on.

It is in the struggle that wisdom lies.




Image credit: Alex Proimos