Why hardship makes us feel like heroes

Dear Daughter,

Sometimes, grown-ups act like children.

I could (and probably will) write several letters detailing reasons why, but today I’m going to focus on one: we adults like to brag about our hardships.

If life is tough, or super busy, we tend to wear that as a badge of honor. Somehow, the more difficult life is, the more important we feel. I think because we come out looking like a survivor? Or maybe it’s just part of our American genetic code. The earliest Americans had to struggle to find freedom, and their hard work paid off. Maybe we all want our own story to look like that. Except that, once the hard work is over, we go through an identity crisis.

Having been a single mom for seven years, I knew about struggle. I didn’t have it nearly as bad as many other single moms did, but still, life was no picnic. A lot of my friends and family felt sorry for me, and I have to admit that at times, I enjoyed that attention. I liked when people said, “I don’t know how you do it,” because it made me feel like a superhero. MOST women wouldn’t make it in this rough-and-tumble life but I can. That must make me special. When I finally did get married—the one thing I had been wishing for all along—I stopped receiving pity from others, and I kind of missed it. Which is just so silly I can’t even stand it. But that’s what we adults do.

The problem with this way of thinking is that the alternative is devalued. When someone’s life is going smoothly, they are viewed simply as someone who’s “got it easy,” rather than being commended for doing something right. As if a peaceful life has everything to do with luck and not with making good choices. As if the gods of Life’s Greatest Stories select some people as their Chosen Ones, and the rest are deemed boring and uneventful. Because of this backwards way of thinking, some people go looking for drama, just to bring attention onto themselves, and that usually never ends well.

In the midst of our struggles, we eagerly play the martyr while fighting for a better life. But once that better life comes, we want the hardship back. Because hardship makes us heroes. It’s a vicious cycle, and I’m the first to say that it makes no sense.

So, Daughter, I urge you and your generation to reverse the cycle. Make an effort not to wear your struggles like a crown, and avoid seeking drama for the sake of looking like a hero. Do give help and compassion to those who truly need it. But don’t place hardship on a pedestal like we adults have been doing for so long. Aim for a peaceful life, not a challenging one.

Love,
Mom

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