Letters to my sons

A collection of thoughts and lessons I've learned along the way for my little men,
and anyone else that's interested.

My sons,

We live in a world of instant gratification, of content on demand, and of immediate feedback. We are constantly looking for ways to eliminate toil, to remove delays, and to get exactly what we want, when we want it. People are always looking for quick fixes.

Take a look at your reading feed. As I write this, I’m using Medium as the hosting provider, which means that I get daily emails from Medium with suggested stories for me to read. 99% of those stories have headlines like “5 things you need to do to get your life on track” or “3 easy steps to achieve your career goals”. Almost every headline is some small set of steps to get quick results, some hack to eliminate the toil and time needed.

That is not how character is made.

Character is developed slowly, over time. It is intentional. It is a painstaking process. It requires grit, determination, and will. It is the explicit declaration that it is not what we accomplish that matters most, but how we accomplish it. It is the understanding that the journey, the struggle, the road taken to get there, wherever that may be, is of primary importance.

And so we must struggle well.

We must learn to shift our aim to the struggle, the growth, and the refinement of character. Otherwise, we will never be satisfied. By achieving our goals, we are often left empty - it is not the achievement, the attainment of the prize, or the trophy rewarded to us after that satisfies and fulfills; it is the knowledge that we have struggled well.

To some extent, the outcome doesn’t even matter!

Yes, we need a great outcome to set our eyes on, to inspire, to motivate. But ultimately, whether we achieve it or not in the long run is less important. “If you shoot for the moon and miss, you’re still among the stars”. “Life’s a journey, not a destination”. So much conventional wisdom tells us that it is not the goal that matters, but the struggle.

This is why at the end of his life, the Apostle Paul is able to say that “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day”. Beautiful.

Paul knew that the struggle mattered, not the outcome. And so we too need to struggle well. We need to set ourselves up not for success but for a well-fought battle, regardless of outcome.

Building strength

Nature tells us that strength is better than weakness. Whether you’re an evolutionist that believes in survival of the fittest, a capitalist that believes in the best product winning, or simply a compassionate human that believes in helping those that are in need, our world tells us that strength is something to be desired.

We also know that struggling builds strength. Physical strength is built with exercise. Mental fortitude is built with dedicated time and energy spent on development, analysis, and understanding of oneself. Emotional strength is built by experience, by reflection, and by understanding. Every facet of our lives is made stronger by struggle.

It is the very reason that we take on challenges that stretch us, and is the reason why we grow the most when we are out of our depth. It is the process by which we grow, by which we refine. It is the very act of moving life forward.

What does it mean to struggle well?

We know that life has a plethora of challenges that every human needs to deal with, and we know that not everyone handles those challenges well. So what does it mean to struggle well?

First of all, struggling well requires mental fortitude. We must be people of perseverance and determination. This requires us to have a big picture view and vision of our situation so that we can see the value of our struggling and the growth that comes at the end of it. It requires us to take things in perspective of our grander journey, and to both see and play the long game.

This is hard.

Humans are hard wired to look for quick wins, to optimize for the immediate and local, to think about self ahead of the greater collective. With that mindset, people will avoid the struggle and take the paths of least resistance that allows them to get to the greatest gain with the least effort. Resist that.

Next, struggling well requires a framework or an archetype. It is not enough to simply struggle. By struggling without thought, reason, purpose, or framing, we simply struggle without gain (and often without benefit or positive outcome). Instead, we must be thoughtful about our endeavors, and be intentional about the purpose for which we struggle.

When we struggle for the sake of learning, for the pursuit of our passions, or for the advancement of something we believe in, we struggle well. For when the going gets tough we need things to sustain us, reasons to keep us going. It is not enough for us to struggle through by sheer willpower alone; no, that won’t produce the outcomes that we desire. Rather, struggle well for a cause, for a reason, for a purpose, and presently you will discover that after your time of struggle you will have evolved and grown not just despite the struggle, but rather because of the struggle. And we know that for mankind, evolving is life’s greatest accomplishment and its greatest reward.

Lastly, struggling well requires reflection. It is not enough to simply power through the rough times in life. Rather, we must recover, pause, and take time to reflect on our experiences during the struggle so that we can reframe, digest, and evolve as humans. It is that reflection that ultimately brings about our growth.

And so my boys, I urge for you to struggle well. Do not struggle in vain, without cause, reason, or purpose, but rather for a vision grander than the mundane so that you too will be refined in your struggling, and will become better men because of it.