Our struggles … and thankfulness

struggles-impediment-action-marcus-aurelius

The past month’s been — in a word — hard.

Ghostwriting, pitching articles, ten or so cold emails with nothing back but digital dial tones, teaching full time at the college, new clients, old clients, tackling more than a few subjects I really have no business writing about (like fifteen blog posts on cloud security and mining “unstructured” data).

I lost my righthand blogger to “personal issues” and two others I lean on have been down for the count.

Not to mention my own messy set of “personal issues.”

All that to say … life’s a struggle.

That leaves me wondering, on this fine Thanksgiving morning: How’re you?

Truth be told, I’m an anxious, self-centered, fear-riddled man.

And … I’m thankful.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not naturally thankful. Gratitude isn’t my knee-jerk response to life.

I’m up. I’m down. But mostly, I’m down.

I’m stressed. I’m worried. I win … I lose. And then I carry those losses around with me like a looped chorus all singing the same song: “Failure. Failure. Failure. You’re not good enough. You were stupid to try. Everyone knows it … and this is the proof.”

My guess is — actually, what I know is — the same is true for you.

No matter what your day job, we all struggle with struggles.

What’s more, we all struggle with thankfulness.

However, the plain truth is our struggles aren’t just inevitable, they’re essential. Our struggles are how love — call it God’s love, human love, love from the Universe, or even love of and from yourself — breaks through.

It’s like Marcus Aurelius said: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Or maybe you like your truisms in religious garb: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”


81SLYRdcbaL-730x1024Naturally, there’s nothing original in those thoughts. In fact, I stole the first one from Ryan Holiday’s book The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph.

Holiday writes:

Let’s be honest: Most of us are paralyzed. Whatever our individual goals, most of us sit frozen before the many obstacles that lie ahead of us.

Every obstacle is unique to each of us. But the responses they elicit are the same: Fear. Frustration. Confusion. Helplessness. Depression. Anger.

Comforting words, I know.

But behind them, like Holiday’s title implies, is the same truth: far from being detours, impediments, or omens that we’re on the wrong path … our struggles are our own best indications that we’re on the right path.

Still, thankfulness is a discipline. It’s a learned, conscious, cultivated skill.

Geoffrey James calls gratitude a “muscle”:

I’m utterly convinced that the key to lifelong success is the regular exercise of a single emotional muscle: gratitude.

People who approach life with a sense of gratitude are constantly aware of what’s wonderful in their life. Because they enjoy the fruits of their successes, they seek out more success. And when things don’t go as planned, people who are grateful can put failure into perspective.

Therefore, if you want to be successful, you need to feel more gratitude. Fortunately, gratitude, like most emotions, is like a muscle: The more you use it, the stronger and more resilient it becomes.

So here’s my promise: today I will be nice to me.

Today I will be thankful, not just for the triumphs … but the failures.

Today I will tell the voices that the obstacle is the way, that the answer to my struggles is to embrace them, and that fear is the most certain proof I have that I’m doing something new, something challenging, something that matters.

I’m okay. And so are you.

I am loved. And so are you.

  • Jeremy Arnold

    This is exactly the sort of thing that makes me take the time to actually read your posts. There are a million marketing-esque blogs out there. But I really appreciate the heart and vulnerability and humanity you put into yours. Keep on it.

    • Aaron Orendorff

      WOW … thanks Jeremy. It was super cathartic to write and I was really encouraged not only by your comments by the handful of email responses I got that echoed your sentiments exactly. Oh, and thanks the Facebook share as well. 🙂

  • Pam Marston Greene

    Enjoyed your article today. I am all about Gratitude and strongly believe that attitude makes all the difference. I am blessed with a optimistically pragmatic outlook, and it hurts me when those around me concentrate so thoroughly on what is going wrong and miss all that is going right. Everyone has set backs, failures and tragedy in their life, thank you for reminding us all that we need to be thankful for it all.

    • Aaron Orendorff

      So glad you enjoyed it … and I’m glad to hear that (unlike me) you’ve got a naturally optimistically pragmatic outlook. 😉

      Maybe I’ll get some optimism by osmosis.