From the time I was little I was taught the very important, but very difficult lesson of: suck it up. There was no one running to help when I fell down, when I was having a bad day, or when I was begging someone to feel sorry for me with my best “feel sorry for me” eyes. I remember, whether it was from the teaching of my parents or my own doing, choking back tears while telling myself, “Don’t do it Sam, don’t cry;” and this is how I grew throughout my childhood into my adolescence, and finally into adulthood. Whether it was fully helpful or not the idea of grinning it and bearing it became almost second nature to me. At times, actually many times, it has been helpful; but there are distinct times that it has definitely backfired. White knuckling, while it can be a helpful skill to have, it can also cause more pain and struggle than is necessary for growth. For the largest part of my life I have adopted the philosophy that to struggle is to live and to struggle is to grow. And while I believe this wholeheartedly, I have learned some struggle is unnecessary for maximized growth.
Growing up in a world where weaknesses are seen as flaws, we are built to put our best face forward, tough it out when it is hard, and “fake it ‘til you make it.” Again I believe in all of these philosophies; but with this, I am growing to be okay with my shortcomings—I’m learning to openly admit them, and take insight from others where it could be helpful in my life. The area where is it most apparent to me in my life is endurance running/hiking. Typically if someone is running and they feel a hot spot (blister) coming on they’ll stop and take care of it to prevent the problem from worsening…but not me. I don’t change shoes, socks, or even look at my feet. During my first 100-miler, I felt a nasty hot spot coming on at mile 20, but instead of taking care of the issue I white knuckled it. My feet were so sore, on fire, and covered in blisters. Yes I finished the race, yes I learned so much through the pain, but I ask myself, “Sam, why?” Exploring this further on my own I have come to realize that more than the finish and the miles, it is the pain that I am able to withstand during my endeavors that is directly related to my sense of accomplishment and personal success.
Moving beyond athletics, I have noticed in my own life that I seek out the road that is not only more bumpy, but I also make sure that I make it even bumpier by filling my schedule to the max, taking on more than is sometimes doable, and just filling it with struggle wherever I can. I am sure that it is hard to understand from the outside, but some people’s content does not lay in the mundane or the comfortable; some feel most at peace through struggle. However, with this said, taking a week off of working out and spending many hours asleep in my bed has been a welcomed change (I am taking a rest due to my most recent 161-miler). This is not to say that I haven’t done this many times before, but normally when I spend countless hours sleeping it is always coupled with guilt of what I should be doing. Yet this week has been different, I guiltlessly slept ten hours a night, had zero social plans, and watched far too much HGTV; however, I haven’t felt this refreshed in such a long time. Relaxation is good, but learning that relaxation can quickly become un-motivation and create the development of bad habits, is essential to realizing in order to get the most out of rest days. All to say that there is purpose to the concept of pushing through pain, just like there is purpose to rest days; however, either one can become more problematic than strategic or helpful, unless the person is in tune with the motivation behind each. The struggle should be strategic and the rest day should be needed; and if it is not ultimately that is fine, but acknowledging what it is instead of pretending it is something it isn’t will keep you from falling into bad habits that are difficult to pull out of.
White knuckling it through life has taught me so much. I have learned how to love struggle, and I am also now learning when to not look for struggle where it is not necessary. By doing that I can improve not only my physical ability to do something but also my overall experience. To struggle is to grow, but being smarter about the struggles I choose, instead of white knuckling it through everything, is the sign of growth and maturity as I move through life.