The Purpose of Life Is In The Struggle
The Struggle is Real
Life is hard.
Most things that are worthwhile take effort.
People don’t always see eye to eye.
Bad things happen to good people.
You have much less control than you think.
The struggle is real.
What defines us is how we approach the struggle.
Three Kinds of Dead-End Struggle
As humans, we are accustomed to struggle. We meet adversity and work to overcome it.
We also have a tendency to struggle in unhealthy, unproductive ways. Part nature, part nurture. Each one views struggle as the enemy.
Some people view every struggle as a win-lose situation. They see conflict as a battle to be won. They see differences and disagreements as a sign of threat. They seek dominance. This kind of struggle never ends well because it always escalates in order to avoid intimacy and protect a fragile ego. This is common among old-school leaders who have previously succeeded in using a command and control style. It no longer works because employees who care about respect and dignity won’t tolerate being treated like losers every time things get tough.
Integrity suffers because being right is more important than being effective.
Struggle Instead Of
Some people view struggle as a problem to be solved and delegate themselves the heroes to do it. At the slightest sign of struggle, they swoop in with their solutions, offering unsolicited advice intended to take away the pain. Their intentions might be noble, but they inadvertently reinforce dependence by sending the message that others aren’t capable to learn and grow through adversity. This is typical among newly promoted leaders who haven’t yet figured out their real job, which is to build capacity in others. It doesn’t end well because the people they rescue feel resentful, and they end up feeling like martyrs because nobody appreciates their expertise.
Integrity suffers because people never get to do the soul-searching required for real transformation.
Some people view struggle as a sign of insufficiency. They keep the struggle to themselves, justifying it with narratives like, “Nobody would understand,” or “They have enough of their own problems.” Struggling alone turns into suffering in silence. They build a wall around their struggle, keeping the world out and preventing anyone from supporting them. This kind of struggle often spirals into loneliness, depression.
Integrity suffers because people don’t show their authentic selves.
Struggle Is Not The Enemy
Notice that all three types of dead-end struggle end up in separation. They all push people away from each other. And they all undermine integrity in their own way.
Isn’t it interesting that when we try to solve the struggle by ourselves, we end up compromising integrity? Integrity is all about authentic connection with ourselves – integration of our values and behavior, our inside and outside selves. Paradoxically, we can’t do it alone.
When we view struggle as the enemy, we miss the whole point. Struggle is a healthy warning to pay attention. Struggle is a sign that something new needs to be created. In fact, struggle is the energy supply for building better.
If you are familiar with Karpman’s Drama Triangle, you might see parallels between the three drama roles and the three types of dead-end struggle. We love this model and it’s featured in my first book, Beyond Drama: Transcending Energy Vampires.
If you are familiar with the Process Communication Model® (PCM) you might see connections to the behavioral positions of different personality types in distress. This model has been a staple for us since the beginning.
We developed our own Leading Out of Drama and The Compassion Mindset frameworks to complement these models and fill a gap; solution-oriented behavioral skills for engaging struggle productively, both in relationships and in cultures.
The Purpose of Life is Struggling With
The purpose of life isn’t to get rid of the struggle. The purpose of life is to find purpose in the struggle.
The struggle is real and it’s not going away. So the only choice we have is HOW we struggle. We can only find purpose in life when we struggle with others, not against them or instead of them or alone.
How do we do this? With compassion. Compassion is what makes us human, brings us together, and gets us back on track when we lose our way. Compassion draws us toward each other, not away. Compassion is how we find purpose in the struggle.
Beware of limiting definitions of compassion that create barriers instead of bridges. Compassion is more than empathy. Empathy alone can lead to burnout. Compassion is not selfless. Chronically denying our own needs is a recipe for disaster. Compassion can be learned. Don’t hide behind the excuse that some people just have it. We have 15 years of outcomes data to bust that myth. These are three of the five barriers I address in my book, Compassionate Accountability.
Real Compassion Is The Solution
Real compassion, the kind that finds transformation in the struggle, requires that we view ourselves and others as valuable, capable, and responsible. These are the three switches of the Compassion Mindset. With this new attitude, we can begin struggling with each other to create more trust, connection, creativity, innovation, and solutions to our biggest problems.
We call this Compassionate Accountability®. In my new book, I’ve assembled the framework, skillset, and implementation guide for how to make this a reality in your life and your organization.
I’m not claiming that this view of struggle and compassion is original. Most philosophical and religious traditions speak to this in some way. What parallels do you see?
What I hope to do is present it in an accessible and practical way so that we can operationalize it in everyday life. Where do you struggle to put real compassion into practice?
What if you viewed struggle not as the enemy, but as an opportunity to build something new and better? What you will find on the other side is more integrity and purpose.