Reality Check: Doing the Hard Thing

Tis the season! Christmas and New Year’s is a special time of the year. It’s a time of joy and goodwill, when family and friends get together to celebrate, indulge in good food, give gifts and share laughs. Strangers extend greetings; old acquaintances get it touch. Promises of “getting together more often” fill the air. People need relationships and it feels good to connect.
We also know that these days of celebration can be hard; a time when losses feel even sharper than usual. If you are grief-filled or isolated, the perception that everyone else is enjoying warmth and good relationships can present a painful contrast.
When we’re feeling wounded, some of us are inclined to slink into our lairs. We’ll emerge later, after all the hubbub is over. No one will notice our absence, right? And we don’t want to bring everyone else down.
That’s one way to handle difficult times. We could call it a time of healing—a convalescence during which our bodies and minds can restore themselves in peace, undistracted by having to “perform” in the presence of others. There may well be times when withdrawal is an effective response.
However, there are other ways to handle difficult times, and I believe that it’s helpful to know that we have some choice in the matter. If you think back to school days, you may recall that some topics were hard, indeed. You may have wondered, “Where will I ever use this stuff?” when studying trigonometry or geometry or even equation-solving. And indeed, you may have never ended up using that knowledge.
Here’s my observation: It can be useful to learn a hard thing, even if you don’t see the reason for it at the time. It’s useful even if you never, ever use that specific piece of knowledge. Why?
Because it proves to you that you can learn the hard thing. It shows you that when you persevere, you become a person who can do difficult things. Knowing that you are able to learn something that’s difficult changes you.
I chose a math example because it seems to be an area that quite a few people perceive as having been difficult in school. But the hard things didn’t end when we got out of school, did they? Only now, as adults, we don’t have a teacher, exercises, or even grades to tell us how we’re doing! No, here we are, muddling through on our own without so much as a course outline to give us a clue as to how life will proceed.
As grownups, we have many things that can be hard to do. For one person, a hard thing may be to choose courage instead of anxiety. For another, it may be to choose hope over depression, or joy over sadness. Another person’s hard thing may be to take a first step; to emerge from their shell and join others even when they desperately don’t feel like doing it.
However, doing a hard thing, even a small hard thing, can change your life. It can change how you see yourself, how you carry yourself, and therefore, how others see and respond to you.
Whether you are feeling joy or sadness this season, I encourage you to choose one hard thing and do it. See what happens, both within yourself and with others. What would you choose?

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