After my morning workout, as I sat down to relax with my computer and a cup of coffee, I happened upon this article by Huffington Post writer Mark Manson. In it, he says that the most important question a person can ask themselves is not what they want in life, but rather, what are they willing to struggle for.
Though I probably shouldn't admit this, this article's straightforward message hit me like a ton of bricks. Not because I've never worked for anything, or because I haven't experienced the particular satisfaction that comes from accomplishing a difficult goal... But simply because I've never looked at life in quite that way, in terms of struggling. Like most people, I'm used to asking myself what I want and answering with fair yet perhaps vague certainty. I want to attend UNC after high school. I want to travel through Europe. I want to work in publishing. But whenever I don't get what I want, I usually just chalk it up to fate. I complain for a bit, shrug off the disappointment as gracefully as I can, and rely on the old "everything happens for a reason" mantra to comfort my ego. It doesn't often cross my mind, however, that the things I thought I desperately wanted may have just not been worth the struggle to me.
To be completely and painstakingly honest here (because if I can't be honest on my own blog, when can I be?), I haven't had to struggle for much in my life. Eek, I cringe just typing that God-awful statement. Yes, I've had to overcome struggles. Who hasn't? But I'm talking about in much broader terms. Money, security, the necessities. I graduated from college in less than four years, but I didn't pay for any of it myself. I wasn't forced to hold a job while I was in school, and I never had to live off of Ramen noodles and peanut butter to survive (although, seeing as I'm a peanut butter addict, I can't say I would have minded too much). I was free to accept unpaid internship positions and gain experience in my field without worrying about making rent each month. I studied abroad on my parents' dime, and I'm currently living with them while I work to save up for my next travel adventure. So I guess you could say I'm one of the lucky ones, with a mom and dad who desired to give their children the opportunities that they never had themselves growing up. But now that I'm in my early 20s, I'm starting to regret being handed all my life what so many people have had to learn to fight for in theirs.
"Do or die," was the answer my friend gave me over dinner last Wednesday when I asked him how he managed to put in 70 hours of work a week on top of his college courses. For him, there was really no choice: if he wanted an education, he had to earn his tuition. If he wanted to eat, a job was the only guarantee of food on the table that month. I don't have many friends with backgrounds like Cody's, and our conversation was refreshing, to say the least. It was eye-opening and inspiring to hear that almost anything is possible for someone with enough determination; but it was also humbling, and I drove home holding onto a small sense of guilt that I haven't since been able to shake. The thing is, I've never known that kind of discipline; I've never had to. It's in comparing my own journey to those of admirably strong people like Cody that I realize a disheartening truth: At 22 years old, I have no idea what it really means to suffer or sacrifice for what I
want need. And that both shames and terrifies me.
Looking back over the years, I'm reminded of how fortunate I've been to have supportive, loving family members who only want the best for me. God has blessed me abundantly, and I try not to take anything for granted; I don't feel entitled, and I know that everything can be taken away in an instant. But sometimes I wonder how different my life—and mindset—would be if I had grown up without the level of comfort that was always provided for me... If I had grown up like my parents, living on love and not much else. I wonder if I would be a better person, a harder worker, a more independent spirit... I wonder if, at the end of the day, my small successes and accomplishments would be worth far more. But then again, I think, what's the point of asking those 'what-ifs?' All I can do is give back as much as I can and be grateful for the unique hand of cards that God has dealt me. A wise person recently told me that it's how we play those cards that determines who we are and what kind of lives we lead.
Come August, I will be completely on my own for the first time in my life, with my own place, my own job, my own goals, and my own challenges. I'm sure that making ends meet is going to be tougher than I realize, and I might be in over my head for a while. But to be honest, I don't think I want it any other way. Lord knows there's something to be said about working your way up from the very bottom. And damn it if I don't embrace that struggle with everything I have, because it's about time I discover what I'm made of.