Dear 12-year-old me:
Over the years, I’ve frequently wondered if my parents enjoyed pain. Seriously. After all, they seemed to always make the arduous and frequently painful choices in life, from the highly strategic: why continue a comfortable life in Egypt when they can immigrate to the US and start at the bottom, to the very tactical: why conveniently shop nearby when higher-quality food can be purchased an hour away more economically? It’s taken me decades to understand that they’re not crazy but, rather, ingeniously connected to what drives life’s happiness: “voluntary struggle.”
1. Struggle is how growth and progress are earned. The implication here is twofold: 1) in order to grow, you must struggle; and 2) you don’t really earn that growth for which you don’t struggle. It is so clear to me now that struggle is the key ingredient to success and happiness in life. The complete recipe? A lot of struggle, intelligent choices, and a dash of luck.
2. Struggle and tough times allow us to taste the sweetness of good times. As I’ve pondered nature over the years, I’ve come to appreciate that nearly every aspect of it flows in perpetual cycles: the seasons, sound and radio waves, the “cycle” of life, and even our daily routine. While it would be nice if we could live life with only the ups of cycles, happy and contented all of the time, we can only recognize and appreciate the ups because we’re keenly familiar with the downs. It is for this reason that someone who has only experienced an easy-going life of privilege can feel so unfulfilled and unhappy despite those luxuries; in essence, they live a “flat line” life.
3. Struggle gives us purpose and meaning. While you might fantasize about a life consisting of a permanent beach vacation, it would be difficult for you to derive purpose and meaning in your contribution to the world doing so. It is because we struggle to create and improve the world around us that we find meaning and fulfillment in our lives. It’s crazy but true.
What, then, is my advice to you? When faced with a decision between the easy, quick, low-reward option and the difficult, lengthy, high-reward option, choose the latter. Yes, it means you’ll struggle. Yes, it means you’ll be delaying gratification. Yes, it means you’ll be taking a risk. These are what make life exciting, meaningful, and, ultimately, enjoyable.
Your 42-year-old self
For more posts in this series, see Letters To A Much Younger Me.