Epictetus, the influential Greek philosopher, wrote the following in his Discourses:
“What would have become of Hercules do you think if there had been no lion, hydra, stag or boar – and no savage criminals to rid the world of? What would he have done in the absence of such challenges?
“Obviously he would have just rolled over in bed and gone back to sleep. So by snoring his life away in luxury and comfort he never would have developed into the mighty Hercules.
“And even if he had, what good would it have done him? What would have been the use of those arms, that physique, and that noble soul, without crises or conditions to stir him into action?”
The message of this simple allegory extends far beyond the tales of mythological heroes. It strikes at a fundamental aspect of human nature:
We can only be as great as our circumstances demand. I also believe we’re capable of far more greatness than many of us think. We all have the strength to subdue and slay great monsters…if only we had to.
You see, one of the hallmarks of the greatest men, women, societies, and civilizations has always been–and always will be–their love of the Struggle.
“Oh, how blessed young men are who have to struggle for a foundation and beginning in life,” John Rockefeller once said. “I shall never cease to be grateful for the three and half years of apprenticeship and the difficulties to be overcome, all along the way.”
Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan and one of the last great Mongolian rulers, knew how to profit from the Struggle. Soft lands make soft people, so every year, he would make his soldiers split their time between the luxuries of their newly acquired Chinese territories and the austerities of the rugged plains of the Steppes. He even kept a plot of grass from his homeland in the garden of his Chinese palace as a personal reminder of the spirit that built his empire–the spirit of the Struggle.
Rome’s eventual rise to prominence started with an inauspicious string of humiliating military defeats that would have broken a weaker people. Well, the early Romans may not have known warfare, but few people in history knew how to embrace the Struggle better than they. And they used this ability to cultivate a military and diplomatic prowess that ultimately won them millions of acres of territory that stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Euphrates, from Britain to Egypt.
My point is this: people like Rockefeller, Kublai, and the ancient Romans knew the the Struggle isn’t a curse–it’s a catalyst. For better or worse, it transforms.
The Struggle is the ultimate “secret weapon” for getting ahead…if you can wield it effectively. It accelerates progress and growth. It hardens the will, strengthens the resolve, and sharpens in the mind.
There’s a catch, though: the Struggle doesn’t care who you are or think you are. It doesn’t care what you’ve done or think you can do. Like Excalibur, you must prove yourself worthy of its heft. You must prove you have the will and backbone to bring it to bear.
The Struggle doesn’t care about your feelings, either. If you’re the type of person that uses how you feel from moment to moment to impulsively guide your actions, the Struggle is going to chew you up and spit you out.
If you can keep your eye on the prize, though, and enthusiastically subject yourself to the process every day…in all its frustrating, exhausting, and, well, slightly masochistic glory…you’ll emerge victorious. Metaphors and fancy prose aside, here’s the crux of this article:
If you want to excel in any endeavor, seek out the Struggle as your first order of business. You know…the hard work that everyone else is avoiding because they’re too busy making excuses for their inadequacies and groping around for non-existent shortcuts.
Yes, it’s going to suck at first. You’re going to get angry. You’re going to feel like an idiot. You’re going to question why you began and why you should go on. But remember…the way out is the way through. And the way to do anything is the way to do everything.