Despite its controversy in the political realm, the phrase “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” captures the American spirit of rugged individualism. It illustrates the still-powerful ideal of looking adversity in the eye and rising to the occasion to overcome it.
Today’s culture of convenience and lack of accountability, though, threatens to deter individuals from experiencing the struggle needed to inspire personal growth. The absence of the benefits gained from overcoming hardship is ultimately to the detriment of both the individual and society as a whole.
The need to struggle for a purpose is innate to human nature. From our societal beginnings as tribal groups warring over resources, to climate activists gluing themselves to anything in reach in an effort to promote environmental action, humans seek to accomplish a meaningful purpose with our lives.
Even absurdists, who purport the idea of a meaningless existence, choose to assign their lives a purpose. Meaningful purpose doesn’t come by way of individual easy work, rather through the effort to surmount something deemed impossible or difficult.
Whether it be working towards holiness in a religion, gaining political power, making lots of money, etc., the process itself of overcoming hardship often bears valuable fruit to the individual and their society.
Conversely, lack of purpose is not only neutral but often has negative consequences.
As described by the popular 1970s philosophy group, Pink Floyd, in “Us and Them,” the human struggle to find purpose in defending your group while attacking another is instinctive.
Making a critique on the meaninglessness of war, the group describes the struggle between those “with and without,” singing that the inherent conflict between those who have and those who do not “is what the fighting’s all about.”
Although not described using the cultured social psychology terms in-group favoritism and out-group bias, Pink Floyd describes the natural inclination to confrontation and challenge, and the desire to give effort to overcome.
Not only does struggle impact the individual, but more strongly society. When a group is faced with an obstacle, individuals tend to let go of smaller disagreements in order to accomplish a goal, as was the case between the USA and USSR to defeat the Nazis.
With necessity, innovation occurs; people rise to the occasion and accomplish greater things than they would have unprompted. Simply cooperating as a group to accomplish a task does not have nearly as great an effect as does combined individual growth. Much more powerful and lasting change occurs when many individuals struggle to better themselves.
When individually developed people come together, society thrives and the community is strengthened. The framers of our nation recognized this when designing our government, emphasizing the role of the informed and virtuous voter to make decisions to ensure prosperity of the country.
They realized that the struggle of debating ideas and navigating thoughtful discussion would lead to the most effective governance. But only if the public could remain informed and wise through the difficult process of developing a personal political position. Convicting, isn’t it?
However enticing the prospect of hardship is, struggle is actually hard, but it’s worth it. Choosing to devalue convenience and learning to tell yourself no is a transformative mindset that leads to a transformed life. The journey starts when you choose to follow through with something simply because you told yourself you would. That you’re stronger than your situation and that you’ll do it just one more time. Naturally, transformation
doesn’t happen overnight.
As it is said in many Christian circles, “the race is not given to the swift, but to the one who endures.” The backbone of choosing to struggle and grow is discipline, which is rooted in consistency. To overcome struggle, simply keep going, time after time. If you fall and fail, get back up and keep going.
Instead of feeding into determinism, which argues that you’re fully a product of your situation, choose to prove your situation wrong. Don’t let fear control you, but lean in to the struggle. It’s not fun, but it makes you better.