Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.” And you, how do you handle these three things?
My conversation with Jane
The other day I was at a local business networking event where I met a young woman, let’s call her Jane (not her real name). She shared with me her desire to make a radical career change for one where she would really feel that she makes a difference. The company that she was working for had just announced a major restructuring plan and, unlike most of her colleagues, Jane was hoping to be among the people who will be made redundant so that she could use her redundancy package to launch her own coaching and retreat business. We then started to discuss about why so many people never reach their goals or never even take the first step toward it. When I told her that I believe that it starts with the non-acceptance of the truth that “Life is difficult”, Jane reacted strongly and told me that she had heard this before and that she totally disagrees because for her life is to be enjoyed. I then took the time to explain to Jane what I meant by “life is difficult”. After a long exchange, Jane was able to see the point I was trying to make and in the end agreed with me.
Thinking back at this exchange, I believe that Jane initially confused my statement about life being difficult with the first of the “Four Noble Truths” which Buddha taught, ie. “Life is Suffering”. I am not an expert on the teaching of Buddha, so I will not expand on what should be understood by “Life is suffering”. I certainly recognize that life is full of suffering, and some people seem to be taking on more than their fair share. However I would like to address this from a different angle.
Personally, I prefer to say that life is difficult. The word difficult means something needing much effort or skill to accomplish, deal with, or understand. When I work with my children to prepare their school exams, I take them through series of exercises with increasing level of difficulties. The more difficult the exercise, the more effort, knowledge and skills it requires. Through this process, my children consolidate their learning, expand their knowledge, and develop their skills. When they become comfortable with level 5 exercises, then completing level 3 exercises that used to require lot of effort from them, becomes easier. Have you not had the same experience in different aspect of your life?
In the same way, life presents itself to us with many challenges. We can avoid them, or we can face them and learn from them. Life is difficult, because it requires, in all its aspects, various degrees of effort, knowledge and skills to go beyond each step. This requires time and energy. For example, the baby has to learn to walk, which is an incredibly difficult task; Ask anyone who had to go through re-education after an accident or an illness and they will tell you. Another example would be that of the young couple, with the two lovers having to learn to live together, which requires a great deal of effort to support, understand, and help each other.
The example of Thomas Edison
Let’s now look more closely at one specific example. Thomas Edison was born in 1847. He is considered as one of the greatest inventors of all time. Edison is credited with the development of many devices that changed the way we live including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the long-lasting, practical electric light bulb. But life for Edison was not always easy. From the beginning till the end of his life, he had to overcome difficult situations which he did with lot of effort and with the support of other people around him.
Edison developed hearing problems at an early age and displayed signs of dyslexia. Only 12 short weeks after starting school, his parents had to pulled him out after teachers called him “stupid” and “unteachable”. He was then taught by his mother and, despite being dyslexic, he discovered his passion for knowledge through reading books such as R.G. Parker’s School of Natural Philosophy and The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. Edison took several small jobs including selling candy, vegetables, and newspapers on trains and on the road. At age 16 he became a telegraph operator, and at 19 he was an employee of Western Union. Then he worked at the Associated Press bureau news wire, where he requested to be on the night shift in order to have more time for his passion: reading and experimenting. By 1869, he was granted his first patent for the electric vote recorder. He went on to become the prolific inventor that we know, and co-founder of what has been one of the world largest company for over 120 years now, General Electric. Edison never gave up despite difficulties and failures. It was after 10,000 failed attempts that he found the right materials for the durable lightbulb. In fact, he never considered those failed attempts as failure. In his own words, “I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work”. He also said: “our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time”.
Everything is first difficult, then it becomes easier
Everything is first difficult, then with knowledge, understanding, and practice, it becomes easier. When confronted with a new challenge, always ask yourself, which facts, information, and skills you need to acquire and apply in order to properly address the issue at hand. Then use your intelligence and the help of a mentor, someone who has gone through the same situation, to clarify your understanding and apply the right judgement to the situation. With the right knowledge and the correct understanding, take action without delay. In the real world, you don’t always have the right knowledge, and the correct understanding of any given situation. This must not prevent you from taking action, because through continuous thoughtful practice, you expand and deepen your knowledge, become wiser, and enter the upward spiral of growth.
This process takes time and requires lot of energy. So why go through so much effort to handle life difficulties? Because we all aspire to happiness. The definition of happiness is different from one person to another, and it evolves with time for each of us. I believe that true happiness, the one that fills your entire self with a great sense of joy and gratitude, is a state of your mind and of your spirit, that does not depends on your material possessions or your circumstances. Therefore you must pay special attention to the ultimate purpose that motivates your actions.
When Time and Energy are dedicated to the purpose of overcoming difficulties and nurturing spiritual growth, I call that Love. It is through Love that you can recognize and accept that life is difficult. It is with Love that you make the effort required. And it is in Love that you find the purpose of your action and the basis for your commitment.
To conclude, I would like to invite you to take a moment to go through the following exercise. Please grab your journal, take few minutes in silence to consider each statement and complete the sentences with your own words.
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Call for action
1. The biggest challenge / struggle that I am going through in my life currently is …..
2. The knowledge, skills, and experience required to overcome this obstacle are….
3. In the past I have been able to address difficulties in my life thanks to….
4. My plan to resolve the current challenge / struggle includes the following steps….
5. My mentor and/or accountability partner with whom I will discuss and review regularly my action plan is….
Written by Maxime Yao
First published 25th February 2018