Herculean Labour – Romanticising Struggle
Last week, I walked in to work feeling exhausted, with bags under my eyes and a cup of coffee to help me get through the morning. While scrolling through social media, I came across quotes such as ‘Your scars make you beautiful’, ‘You have to power through this, and it will all be worth it’, ‘The only way out is through’. While it was hard to imagine that my bloodshot eyes and sleepless state could be fixed by copious amounts of caffeine, these quotes reassured me that struggling is a part of human nature – with memes reinforcing that ‘The struggle is real’. Our struggles (or “first world problems”, such as getting enough sleep) are different from those of previous generations, but the experience of struggle remains constant.
Upon a closer look, these new-age quotes are the same as the adages: ‘Try until you succeed’, ‘You won’t get it right the first time’, that our parents and grandparents repeated to us all our childhood. Growing up, we heard stories of how people juggled multiple responsibilities to support their families and got an education simultaneously, to finally have it all pay off with a comfortable lifestyle at present. We look for inspiration from people’s success stories that embody a rags-to-riches journey. It gives us hope that if they can do it, so can we. Hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. However, do we really need to be in a tunnel in the first place?
Due to the saturation of struggle stories, our interpretation of struggle has evolved from ‘it is inevitable and normal’ to being ‘essential for our growth and the shaping of our identities’. In trying to focus on the journey rather than the end, millennials have grown up believing that struggle is a part of life to be embraced and celebrated.
This romanticism of struggle has led to a point where we do not appreciate or accept without being made to struggle for it. Essentially, if something has an easy way to it, it isn’t worth it. So, we devalue various things in life. Solo trips or backpacking will show us how to appreciate nature, solitude, find ourselves, and bring out our best because they require us to step outside our comfort zone. In reality, the struggle can bring out the best, or it can crush us. There are other ways to explore life – the most difficult path need not have added value as compared to the others.
The struggle mindset is best exemplified in our work culture. With being busy and being tired used as status symbols, millennials feel guilty for having something easy when others are struggling; and feel guilty for struggling so much when we are meant to be having it all. Both elements reinforce each other and leave us feeling perpetually exhausted and experiencing burnout.
Regardless of our state of being, guilt is a pre-installed feature that seems impossible to delete. If we experience a day without struggling with anything at all – be it work, work-life balance, or managing a household, we question ourselves about whether we’re doing it right, because ‘Things can’t be this easy naturally, for if it was, it would have no meaning.’
Millennials aren’t looking for happiness, we’re looking for meaning – that all this struggle is worth something in the end. It is no different from looking for redemption. The belief that our story is worth something only if it has a struggle in it, sucks us into the vortex of further struggle. Even if there’s a path out, we are so accustomed to the glorified struggle that we are blind to it or choose to turn away from the path.
After viewing such a bleak picture, is there a way out of this? We have to contend with guilt and struggle, all while feeling exhausted. This is a steep, uphill climb. (With that statement, the struggle has been glorified even more).
Dismantling this culture that has such intertwined elements means that tackling one will unravel the others. We need to identify and understand our need to struggle with guilt, question what we are getting from it, and look at how we can simplify our work further and achieve our goals with the least amount of struggle. In figuring this out, we can find ways to set boundaries for ourselves to contain our guilt and struggle, thereby minimizing our feeling of exhaustion.
Rather than worrying about missing out on growth by taking the easy way out, we gain by becoming more creative (also known as jugaad) in our problem-solving approach, and that’s always a win. It is time to explore who we are and what we’re worth if we choose not to struggle. Even if what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, do we really want to take that risk?
This article is written by Ms Nandita Seshadri, a therapist and integral part of Team Adveka.