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Difficulty Is Forging Us Into Who We Need To Be

Daily Stoic Emails

Look, nobody wants to go through hard times. We’d prefer that things go according to plan, that what could go wrong doesn’t, so that we might enjoy our lives without being challenged or tested beyond our limits. 

Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to happen. Which leaves us then with the question of what good there is in such difficulty and how we might—either in the moment or after the fact—come to understand what it is that we’re going through…today, tomorrow, and always. 

This passage from Sonia Purnell’s wonderful biography of Clementine Churchill, wife of Winston Churchill, is worth thinking about this morning:

Clementine was not cut out from birth for the part history handed her. Adversity, combined with sheer willpower, burnished a timorous, self-doubting bundle of nerves and emotion into a wartime consort of unparalleled composure, wisdom, and courage. The flames of many hardships in early life forged the inner core of steel she needed for her biggest test of all. By the Second World War the young child terrified of her father…had transmogrified into a woman cowed by no one. 

The Stoics believed that adversity was inevitable. They knew that Fortune was capricious and that it often subjected us to things we were not remotely prepared to handle. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. Because it teaches us. It strengthens us. It gives us a chance to prove ourselves. “Disaster,” Seneca wrote, “is Virtue’s opportunity.”

As he writes in On Providence:

Familiarity with exposure to danger will give contempt for danger. So the bodies of sailors are hardy from buffeting the sea, the hands of farmers are callous, the soldier’s muscles have the strength to hurl weapons, and the legs of a runner are nimble. In each, his staunchest member is the one that he has exercised. By enduring ills the mind attains contempt for the endurance of them; you will know what this can accomplish in our own case, if you will observe how much the peoples that are destitute and, by reason of their want, more sturdy, secure by toil.

Basically, he was describing the same phenomenon that transformed Clementine Churchill from a timid young girl into the brave woman who inspired millions of Britons and Europeans through one of the darkest ordeals in the history of the modern world. The difficulty she went through early in life forged for her a backbone upon which she and countless others came to depend.

And so the same can be true for you and whatever it is that you’re going through right now. Yes, it would probably be preferable if everything went your way and if you could count on smooth sailing for the rest of your life. But you can’t. You’re stuck with this present moment instead. 

So use it. Be hardened and improved by it. Be transformed by it. The world needs more Clementines. And you can be one of them.

P.S. This was originally sent on April 24, 2019. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.