Does it ever get (much) easier?

By Caitlin Kelly

I think there’s a comforting fantasy that being “successful” = easy.

As in, life suddenly smooths out into something calm, cool, stress-free.

Awesome! Sign me the hell up!

While in Tucson, I’ve gotten to know some of the Institute students, as well as some of the Times and Boston Globe staffers here working with them. In a long and personal conversation with one local student, a 21-year-old man who is already well-launched in journalism, he wondered why I still struggle.

Aren’t I successful?

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see “success” as a specific and final destination, and if it is, I wonder if that’s really the best way to look at it.

He asked me to define success. (No pressure!) My answer was very different from what it would have been in my 20s (career!), 30s (marriage!), 40s (finding a new partner/husband). As readers of this blog well know, I tend to be driven, ambitious and obsessive.

But success for me today looks quite different. It’s the hard-earned blend of a healthy retirement fund, a lovely second husband, good friends, health, a nice home and — oh, yeah — work! That order surprised me even as I wrote it, but the sub-conscious is a powerful little thing, isn’t it?

Maybe it’s being Canadian or being a Baby Boomer or having lived in five countries or being a journalist whose industry is “in disruption” — (fucking total chaos is more like it!) But I never expect life to be easy.

I wish it were easier, certainly. Struggle is wearying and distracting. Struggle without any visible, measurable progress is deeply dispiriting.

But just because something is difficult — your friendships, marriage, school, work, workouts — doesn’t mean it’s not worth pursuing.

It doesn’t mean you’re not succeeding.

I suspect that most of us rarely publicly admit to struggle; it’s not sexy or slick and it can make us appear ill-prepared or incompetent or dis-organized.

I call bullshit.

Life is sometime just really damn hard. The more we’re willing to be, (optimistically, resourcefully), candid about this with one another, the easier it gets, because then people with wisdom can help (some of them) and our struggle diminishes.

Not everyone is kind or compassionate, of course. But the people who sneer at the notion of struggle, glibly insisting that their path to glory has been 100 percent smooth, are usually lying — or their path is short, flat and well-paved, if not well-funded by others.

Ignore them.

One of the editors here said something to me at breakfast I found helpful and comforting. When I told her how many of us in this industry, certainly those over 40, are scrambling to “reinvent” ourselves, she suggested that this struggle, and it really is a struggle, is something attractive, not repellent.

Not if you’re about to lose your home and plunge into destitution, but having to figure stuff out, no matter if you’re 21 or 71, keeps us alive and attentive and connected and paying attention.

I generally enjoy the challenges of my work and life. I’m easily bored. I like to grow and acquire new skills. I like to test myself and see how many new things I can cram into my head.

As soon as I can easily clear one bar — (the high jump kind, not the alcoholic kind!) — I usually raise it by finding something new and tough to learn and potentially get better at. A life spent coasting, happily resting on one’s laurels, is just not very appealing to me.

(This might be something that runs in my family; my Dad turns 84 in a few weeks and plans to go sky-diving to celebrate.)

How about you?

Does struggle invigorate or annoy you?

NOTE: I leave today — computer-free! — for five days travel and into the Grand Canyon. So if your comments go unanswered until Friday, please don’t despair.

Jose may post a pre-written few things in my absence, or offer a guest blog of his own.

Play nice!

15 thoughts on “Does it ever get (much) easier?

  1. Absolutely excellent. I feel like we’re in the same tribe. You give light to the people that need it, and that’s a good thing. It comes in handy more than you think. πŸ™‚ You’re doing some amazing work. I hope your trip is splendid. Be sure and get a piece of the Vishnu Schist if you haven’t left already. It’s a rock that’s millions and millions of years old. Talk about grounding- it was here when the world began.

  2. I’d say invigorating and annoying. Annoying to have a handful around me right now that don’t understand AT ALL, have no compassion, and feel that somehow I did this to myself and it’s all my fault. Blah blah blah. They’d tattoo a big L on my forehead I suppose. Though none of my detractors have taken the road less traveled. Their paths have always been clearly marked, and much the same as the road their peers have traveled.

    Can we say B O R I N G

    Yet, regardless of how hard it is right now, regardless of how down I am sometimes, I know that I am on a path towards something new, and of my own making, and THAT to me is very invigorating. πŸ˜‰

    1. Well you know what I’d be saying to them…Fuck y’all.

      I hate people who sit back in chicken-necking, finger-wagging judgment who never took a risk in their life and tsk-tsk those who do. I don’t know your story (so I hope it’s not a victim drama you did create, as some do and love to do.) But I know exactly the sort of people you describe and it is horrible to have no one get what the hell you are facing.

      1. I’ve always been independent and rarely one to ask for anything. I’m not to overly concerned anymore with the tsk tskers. Nothing I can do…they will think whatever they want to. I believe that success is about the choices you make, and living with the consequences of those choices. Risk management I guess πŸ˜‰ I am not concerned with achieving someone elses definition of success, and therefore I don’t expect them to live up to mine. We all have different life experiences, different choices, different challenges.

  3. my life has never gone on a long stretch without a period of struggle in one area or another. for me, it tends to bring me to places i may have never been had i not had to figure things out, make them work in some creative way, or used an out of the box approach to solve. like you, when someone says they have never struggled, i tend to doubt this is completely accurate. )

    1. If they have never struggled, I wonder how much compassion they can muster for those who do. I also think it’s very un-cool to admit to struggle when in fact most of us will face it and need back-up!

  4. Struggle is the name of the game! If you’re not struggling in some aspect of your life you’re probably dead, in the metaphorical if not the physical sense. That said, I feel like I’ve had three and a half years straight of undiluted struggle so I’m currently somewhat over it. However I do believe you’ve got to keep putting something positive out there or else you really won’t be deserving of, or awake to, the opportunities that the universe might send your way.

    Have a great trip and thank you so much for your lovely, lovely comments on my blog.



  5. Fantastic post! The desire to tell stories of evolving lives has been driving me lately. When I was younger and I would admit to people that I want to write, they would tell me their stories. Almost always, those stories were about struggle, and gratitude for having received, pain, uncertainty, and disappointment. People who faced challenges had found value in being thrown off the course of their expectations, discovering life had given them so much more than they thought they wanted. Then, almost always, I’d be told, “Maybe you’ll write about that.” Yes, I think I will, thanks. πŸ™‚

  6. It never gets easier. we have merely the satisfaction of knowing that we conquered the last challenge (or not) before having to tackle the next. Life is filled with them. Like ’em? Myself? Not really. But if we didn’t have challenges – things going wrong, things to figure out, the car causing grief, and so on – then life would probably lose its dynamic.

  7. Wow, such a thoughtful piece. I don’t think I know what success is; and I don’t think I know what struggle is (I’m a well-educated white Anglo-Saxon Protestant Australian male…just for starters). So I’ll have to ponder this, and probably write about it. In the meantime, perhaps success is about improving (better writer, lover, friend) and that struggle is simply THE reality?

    1. Thanks!

      I agree, that some of us start out with a whole pile of privilege. I often think some people never struggle and I envy them that. But then I wonder if they are hiding it…or setting the bar too low?

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