My last post focused on Loneliness. It started by guessing what % of humanity both dealt with or is currently dealing with loneliness. I begin this post with a similar guess. First, I am defining “hardship” in this case to refer to chronic situations where a person in large part, struggles or endures a challenging circumstance that has a significant impact on their physical, mental or emotional life. Examples of this would include dealing with a physical, mental, emotional handicap (e.g. depression, loss of limb/sight, mental illness, cancer, broke, abuse, war, poverty, etc.). My guess would be that currently 10-20% of humanity is experiencing this at any one time. Based on my travel and volunteering in some of the most challenging areas, this helped me to realize how many people are dealing with major challenges or hardships. How many experience this in their lifetime? My guess would be 30-50%.

Michael As Young BoyI personally experienced hardship as I defined it, growing up in a very abusive family of origin, which was not only painful at that time, but compounded by the issues I carried forward into my own life. This was revealed in my recent book, Discovering Michael: An Inspirational Guide to Personal Growth & Self-Discovery.

Regardless of the accuracy of my initial guesstimates, comes the question of why hardships? Is there a purpose to hardships? Such questions I believe can only be responded to based on some form of belief or element of faith or spirituality, supported by the evidence I found in my own life and others. Therefore, my responses are just that, my own perception.

stephen-hawkingTo begin with I find that I admire many of those I met who had experienced hardships. I was reminded of this last night as I watched the movie, “The Theory of Everything”, a reveal of the life of Stephen Hawking. What a challenge he endured, along with his family, and yet another source of inspiration with the same conclusion, to make the most out of the life you were given. I share a few stories in my book of those I met on my journey of self-discovery, that were enduring such hardships, yet somehow hung in there, and some even using this as a catalyst to help others. There always seemed to be a unique connection that was made with these very special people. We were survivors!

I have come to believe that there is a spiritual purpose to hardships. It begins with a belief that we are here for a purpose, and that relates in large part to our quest to grow and become better human beings here on Earth. It is the pursuit of becoming a more loving being in all that we do, to be love. There is the expression, “no pain, no gain” that sums up to me the purpose of hardships. We come to Earth and ride waves known as life. There are the times that we ride on top of the waves, enjoying the good things that life here has to offer. But what is true of life here is that waves at some point crash, which is where we fall on troubled times. The depth of our highs and lows may differ, but the impact is the same. It is during these lows that we develop character, beginning with a choice to endure or give up. Here we depend on the love of others to provide us with the support needed to maintain some form of hope, the ultimate inspiration.

Hardships cause much longer lows than many experience during the normal ups and downs. Our crashes are tougher and more challenging to endure and deal with. We find ourselves often feeling alone, in situations that others don’t understand nor want to understand. We are confronted with who we are. Along with this are choices, where we may become bitter and the victim, or choose to accept our circumstances and find a way to carry on. The pain can be physical and emotional. It is often overwhelming and we may choose to give up by finding ways to escape the pain. For those who have not been there, I can only suggest that you appreciate that there are depths so low where the pain overshadows any sense of hope. It is here that your choice to reach out can make a huge difference!

Viktor FranklIf we somehow endure these hardships, we become an inspiration to others experiencing similar challenges. When we reach out and share our stories, we help others realize that they are not so alone, and mostly that there is hope, the most significant ingredient to surviving life’s hardships. There are fortunately so many great examples of this. Viktor Frankl comes to mind. As a survivor of one of the most horrendous hardships, being in a concentration camp, Viktor dug deep to find that faint sense of hope to persevere and live to share his story to become an inspiration to millions!

Anita MoorjaniAnother favorite example of mine is Anita Moorjani. She endured the hardship of cancer, and made a miraculous recovery and now has dedicated so much of her life to helping others. It seems that a common denominator for so many of those amazing people who focus on demonstrating greater levels of love and inspiration to others, are those that have endured hardships! They became the inspiration for me to write my book with purposes of becoming an inspiration and guide to those that have suffered childhood and other hardships.

The following excerpt is from my book, following a challenging volunteer experience I had in Africa, where I was exposed to seemingly hopeless situations. Instead I discovered so simple and yet profound…

“I returned with a new sense of self-worth and strength to listen to many more stories of hope and despair. I realized the power of a simple and heart-felt reply, I am so sorry to hear about this. It was not up to me to fix, but to begin by letting them know that others, from across the world, did indeed care. I realized that even though it was my original intention to volunteer and make a difference, I ended up as the pupil, learning from those I had sought to help. We each have the potential of helping others, even if it is just with our willingness to listen.”

This offers the suggestion that even if we have not experienced hardships, there is a great value in becoming acquainted with those who are. We both learn something amazing about ourselves, and of others. With this new awareness we can discover our ability to reach out and help others, which as I describe as follows…

FatherDay2“The benefit of personal growth and self-discovery is that we become better human beings with the strength to endure and carry on, and then we may experience something magical when we begin to reach out to others. We discover a feeling that is so rewarding and fulfilling: that fact that we can make a difference. Here is to your willingness to begin with making a difference with yourself!”