“I don’t want you to have to do anything hard.”
When I received my acceptance letter to West Point in December 1995, my Mom cried.
“I just don’t want you to have to do anything hard,” she said.
At the time, I couldn’t articulate why I didn’t understand that statement.
But now I know what I should’ve said then: that I want to do hard things. I was born to do hard things. I have been equipped and empowered by my Creator to do hard things.
How would I grow or improve without doing hard things? How would I accomplish my goals without growth-inducing challenge? 17-year-old me brushed my Mom off as being over-protective and frankly, stupid. Give me a little grace here – I was a teenager.
Because now I’m the mother of a teenager. And I get it.
That wasn’t what my Mom meant.
She didn’t doubt my abilities, drive, or grit.
My Da was on the faculty at West Point twice. During those years, my Mom had loved and counseled and supported dozens of women cadets as they experienced sexual harassment, toxic leadership, and even sexual assault.
Those were the hard things she didn’t want me to have to experience.
What’s the difference between the struggle I was seeking, and the struggle that my Mom wanted me to avoid?
“My daughter wasn’t born to struggle.”
I attended that training over two years ago, and have been reflecting on that statement since then. The speaker was sharing how her daughter inspired her to grow personally and professionally, because without her growth, her daughter was destined for a life of lack and struggle. The speaker had to grow. Her daughter was why.
When I first heard her statement, it totally resonated. My children have inspired my growth in more ways that I can describe.
And I thought to myself – I don’t want my daughter to have to struggle either. I want her to experience abundance, ease, and flow. I don’t want her to struggle to just meet her basic needs.
And I certainly still want that for her.
But as I have reflected, I have realized that I do want her to struggle.
I want her to do hard things.
Our daughters were, in fact, born to struggle, and struggle is not something that we should resist.
What’s the difference between the struggle the speaker was describing, and the struggle that I want for my baby girl?
What does “struggle” mean to you?
As I have reflected on whether our daughters were “born to struggle,” I have realized that different people have different understandings of what struggle means.
For my Mom, she didn’t want me to have to struggle with toxic, harmful, or traumatic situations. That struggle was a threat to my safety and well-being.
For the speaker, she didn’t want her daughter to struggle to meet her basic needs of food, shelter, and safety.
Certainly both of these concepts of struggle make sense – and I can see how and why we would want our daughters to avoid these struggles.
Struggle means something specific in those contexts.
Apart from those contexts, some understand struggle based on a more literal interpretation of its definition: “to make strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulties or opposition.”
By this definition, struggle can and should be growth-inducing and ultimately positive. Struggle provides us opportunities to grow in faith, develop self-awareness, and improve our skills.
But even this concept of struggle can become dysfunctional when it is self-imposed or unnecessary.
Have you ever met someone who makes things harder than they have to be?
A mentor of mine describes these people as “hard-aholics,” or “noble strugglers.” They create struggle where it doesn’t have to exist. Without struggle, they wouldn’t know who they are. Struggle presents an opportunity for validation and praise. It also creates an opportunity for continued excuse-making and can perpetuate a victim mentality.
Some “hard-aholics” perpetuate struggle because they think they should, or because they can’t imagine a life that isn’t hard, miserable, and unfulfilled.
Choosing Alignment: The Struggle to Avoid and The Struggle to Embrace
So what’s the difference?
Aligned struggle is growth-inducing and moves you in the direction of your vision and goals.
Aligned struggle is challenging, invigorating, and fulfilling. It is frustrating, uncomfortable, and tiring – but for the right reasons.
Aligned struggle points your grit in the direction of your purpose.
In contrast, struggle that is not aligned is dysfunctional, toxic, self-imposed, or unnecessary. It doesn’t move you closer to your vision, doesn’t deepen your faith, and doesn’t align with your highest and best self. Struggle that is not aligned does exactly the opposite: it stands in the way of your being your best self, achieving your potential, making a positive impact, and living your purpose.
Alignment, Struggle, and What I Want For My Girl
Last week my baby girl turned 18. (Can I still call her my baby girl now that she’s an adult? Yes. Yes I can.)
She is strong-minded and strong-willed. She is bright, creative, and hard-working. She is kind, inclusive, and welcoming. She is quiet and talkative. She is an emotionally intelligent deep feeler and an intellectually intelligent big thinker. She is an athlete and an artist. She has tremendous potential and a unique purpose. We love her so much and are so proud of her.
And I want her to struggle. I want her to do hard things. Because I know that she can. Because I want her to grow. Because I want her to live aligned – and alignment requires grit.
I want her to experience aligned struggle. I want her to embrace and lean into the kind of struggle that will require drive and mental toughness.
I want her to point her power in the direction of her purpose.
I want this for her.
…which means I must model it for her.
Children become what us parents model and do, not what we say and wish.
For my baby girl who graduates high school today, I must embrace aligned struggle. I must use the gifts my Creator invested in me in a way that serves others. I must seek a clear vision for my life. I must strive to be my highest and best self. I must endeavor to achieve the goals that are aligned with the calling on my life. And I must give myself grace when I fall short.
I must do this because I want this for her. I want her to live aligned.
I must choose aligned struggle. I must live aligned.
She is why.
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