To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, Ill-treatment, indignities–I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished.
This wish is of Fredrich Nietzsche, the great German philosopher who wrote extensively on the subject of suffering and hardships and how such things are the path to self-improvement and growth.
It was Nietzsche’s understanding that the most valuable experiences are those which we earn by enduring the struggle of life. It’s the struggle that gives meaning to any accomplishment. At least that’s what I believe to be true. There isn’t anything that has come easy in my life which I look upon with fondness. When you achieve something without having pushed past your perceived limitations that thing quickly becomes a distant memory, some lost thought. Graduating university is an example of that for me. It isn’t something I feel a sense of growth from because I went through those years coasting on minimal effort, satisfied with mediocre marks. It’s almost as if those four years didn’t even happen.
However, the simple act of being able to do 10 pull-ups is something I attach a sense of pride too because I know where I started from (unable to do a single one) and where I ended up. I know I got there by constantly attacking something I was weak at, something I disliked, something that was always a struggle and surely, over time, I improved, I got better and now it’s something that acts as a reminder of what I am able to do if I attack some hardship over and over again.
It’s strange how what should have been a life-changing experience like graduating university, felt like a blur where I was barely conscious while something like pull-ups sticks with me like some great teacher.
The teacher is the hardship, it’s suffering, it’s being uncomfortable. I understand this now. University wasn’t any of those things because I spent it being passive and not trying to grow.
Hidden in forests like shy deers.
That’s no way to live and that’s how I have been living for some time. That’s how a lot of people live.
What if pleasure and displeasure were so tied together that whoever wanted to have as much as possible of one must also have as much as possible of the other … you have the choice: either as little displeasure as possible, painlessness in brief … or as much displeasure as possible as the price for the growth of an abundance of subtle pleasures and joys that have rarely been relished yet? If you decide for the former and desire to diminish and lower the level of human pain, you also have diminish and lower the level of their capacity for joy.
I went with the former in my university days. Painlessness. Which was why I was satisfied with the pleasure of mediocre marks because I wanted to keep the displeasure as low as possible. Studying was hard so I rather cram before a test. Such a mindset keeps the displeasure low but also the pleasure is minimal.
On the other hand, the act of writing has displeasure as well but by forcing myself to stay in that displeasure, to write for a block of time or to write ‘x’ number of pages before I’m allowed to leave my study table, the pleasure I gain from finishing is much greater than the displeasure that had existed. The sense of accomplishment gained from writing, rewriting, editing and completing a story is almost incomparable to anything I’ve done. Even if no one reads that story, there is still a personal gain, a growth because I pushed past the struggle and was able to come out the other side. The limitations I thought I had were pushed back just slightly.
I know the displeasure, being uncomfortable, experiencing hardship, it’s all worth it if your willing to stay in it. Additionally, once you do push past such things to accomplish something, it almost has this addictive sensation where you want to seek out another thing that will require struggle and effort to achieve because you know what possibility lies on the other side.
Something like writing is great for this because once one story is finished, you have to start another one from scratch and the whole process begins again.
Once you understand that the humiliations, failures, disappointments are just part of the process then such setbacks don’t derail you from your path. Instead, there’s a shift in the mindset where such things are viewed more critically. Nietzsche cites the example of the painter Raphael who felt inferior to other great painters like Michelangelo and Da Vinci but instead accepting his inferiority at the moment and going a different way, Raphael chose to dedicate his time studying and learning from these painters and using them to correct his own paintings and eventually, he understood how to create what he wanted.
In modern times, the example of Kobe Bryant stands out. Famously, Kobe air-balled several shots against the Utah Jazz in a playoff eliminator game. There was a fear that such humiliation on this grand stage could have broken his confidence because Kobe was a young player with potential at this point. But for Kobe, this humiliation was just part of the process. Instead of wallowing in despair, he went and studied the game tape, noticed how flat his shot was at the end of the game, understood the reason for this was that his legs were tired which meant he needed to implement a new strength and conditioning workout routine which would keep his legs fresh for the duration of the season. In this calculating manner, Kobe came to be known as one of the most clutch, game-winning players in the history of the NBA.
Losing, failing, humiliations, disappointments, it’s all part of the process, it’s part of life.
If all you care about is pleasure or pain then you’ll never push past your perceived limitations. The first moment you feel pain or displeasure, you’ll quit. The moment you feel some pleasure you’ll stay in that and feel accomplished, not knowing what more you could have done.
Not everything which makes you feel better is good for us. Not everything which hurts may be bad.