Is struggle really a gift? Is the pain, suffering, and discomfort that comes with it really worth the effort?
I’ll be the first to admit–struggling sucks. You’d have to be crazy to want to struggle. In many ways, I’d like nothing more than to rid the world of it.
Growing up with a surplus of struggle, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I questioned if I had what it took to accomplish my dreams. I often wonder if I would’ve figured out the gifts of my struggle without my experience three weeks into army basic training (I share this story in chapter 2 of The Gift of Struggle! Download that here). Perhaps I would’ve figured it out eventually, but that isn’t a comfortable thought for me.
I see people in a similar struggle when they’re in a new position of leadership, have made a career change, or are taking the dramatic leap from the corporate world to the unpredictable journey of entrepreneurship. Scenarios like these come with a steep learning curve and frustration that leads you to questioning your decisions and yourself.
It’s during these times of chaos and angst we want to avoid our struggles. But this only makes the struggle harder to reframe and later, even harder to find the gift you’ll be given.
Here are three of the most powerful gifts that struggle will give you to guide your leadership journey:
1. Gift of Story
Stories inspire, connect, and educate. Research has proven that our brains crave the power of story much more than the numbing data on excel sheets often used nowadays. In an article written by Carmine Gallo, he says storytelling is “a tool that triggers the rush of neurochemicals that are critical for social bonding in primitive society and continue to bond us today.” Logic and data are good, especially for creating a credible story, but it’s the emotions people feel about the story that is remembered.
Oftentimes, I work with people early in their leadership journey or leaders with vast amounts of experience who have yet to figure out the magical powers of storytelling. They have a desire to help people, create connections, and build stronger teams. However, they aren’t telling their most powerful stories of struggles and the lessons they learned from them. When you share your story, your brain waves begin to literally sync with those listening!
The people you lead learn from the struggles you share. Like you, they can’t resist a story that makes them feel like they aren’t alone in their journey. They’ll make this connection when you share the gifts you’ve been withholding.
2. Gift of Truth
Struggle is the most honest form of feedback you’ll ever get. Struggle doesn’t hold back any truth and you experience it in real time.
You probably dislike this truth as much as I do because it’s a reality check. You know you aren’t great at a new task and need to learn, or you know you’re going to have to work 10 times harder because of the lot you were given in life. However, you get to decide what to do with this truth.
This shows up the most when I observe leaders doing and learning something new. Logically they know they’re likely going to be lousy at that new thing in the beginning, yet they’re frustrated when they experience the reality of doing the task poorly. And when leaders experience a setback, it’s hard to bounce back from feeling like you failed.
Rather than viewing the struggle as a failure or shortcoming, we can use the experience to help us the next time we do something similar. We see future problems with more clarity when we reflect on our past experiences.
3. Gift of Compassion
When you witness someone doing something for the first time, are you patient and empathetic with them? If the answer is yes, it’s likely because you’ve been there. You understand their struggle and have patience as they learn.
Understanding this connection between your struggles and someone else’s is critical to becoming a more compassionate leader. Leaders who haven’t made this connection tend to be impatient and less forgiving on first-time mistakes. Instead of catching people doing the right things, they harshly point out mistakes and become easily frustrated. This becomes their reputation among their team and maybe beyond.
Teams question the humility of the leader who doesn’t remember their roots. I know you don’t want to be that leader. Reflect on your own struggles and be intentional about having compassion for others finding their way.
We All Struggle.
Do you want to help your team realize they aren’t alone? Do you want to boost your leadership courage? Is building trust important to you? Consider these questions:
1) How can the lessons from my most significant struggles help me tell better stories?
2) How am I changing the way I approach problems that come my way?
3) How am I signaling to my team that I empathize with them when I guide them through something new?
It’s amazing what happens when you make the connection between your struggles and your gifts. My hope is that this perspective will help you reframe how you view struggle so you may better help the people you lead.
Hail the Underdogs!
How have some of your struggles helped you as a leader? I’d love to hear in the comments below! #studentsofstruggle
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