If there is no Struggle, there is no progress.

—Frederick Douglass

Though there may be exceptions, generally speaking, I’ve heard that if we happen to see a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon and, moved by sympathy, rush to help it out, that the loss of the struggle stymies the maturation of the butterfly and our “help” has actually condemned it. In a similar manner, I think it’s safe to say that if we do everything for our children, never allowing them to struggle because it’s hard on us to watch them struggling, we stymie their growth and maturation.

This appears to me to be a true principle. But does this principle apply to our own development? If so, how?…

I think the answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’

When we take on new challenges and engage something that is foreign to us it causes new neurons to form in our brains.1 From a biological perspective, when you willingly put yourself in challenging situations, new genes turn on in your nervous system and code for new proteins which in turn produce new neurological structures. It literally changes us.

It seems we need to be challenged in order to develop fully or maybe even properly. Oh, but we don’t much like it and arrange most of our life to avoid challenges which are beyond our comfort zone. Except those cases where the ‘challenges’ are in alignment with the areas in which we like to be challenged, such as some physical stretches and some aspects of personal development. But when it comes to those areas that frustrate us over and over, and which may require substantial transformation of facets of us, not so much.

The avoidance can be really subtle too. For example, perhaps we don’t make ourselves approachable in order to receive feedback, or we’ll ignore evidence that points to our contribution, or minimize the need to change, and on it goes.

The key that makes the challenges transformative, though, involves willingly going into them. Meaning, challenges can be thrust upon you, and you’ll go through them and survive perhaps, but those don’t necessarily transform you. I’m not sure how the being willing aspect positions you differently than when you aren’t willing, but the evidence is pretty compelling that it does.

Just because we are willing to go through something doesn’t take away the discomfort and destabilization that comes with entering into new challenges. By definition a challenge is something that is beyond your current capability. Therefore, new competencies must be developed. Anytime we are in steep learning, there are fits and starts as we attempt things and fail and derive learning and reapply other approaches. Frustration is common during those efforts. It’s also usually means you come to the end of your tried-and-true strategies, leaving you clueless as to what to try next. It’s all part of the process of becoming, if you will.

The archetype of someone or something dying and being reborn runs through so many of our stories and popular films. A classic one is the phoenix, which burns completely and then rises from the ashes. In our stories the heroes always get to a place where they are on the cusp of losing it all until they break through. But it requires them to face things about themselves that are challenging and daunting. The ubiquitous nature of this theme indicates there’s a truth there. If you think about it, when you move into new mindsets, new practices and look through new paradigms the ‘old’ you must be left behind. Like a skin that gets shed, some aspect of you must die, so to speak, in order for a new expression of you to come about. We get to struggle, like the transformed pupae, out of the cocoon. And struggle we must in order for the wings to work properly.

Each of us has blurry vision of our own ideal or possibility. When we don’t reach for that, we experience frustration and are disappointed in ourselves. It’s a type of self-betrayal. That’s a thought: If we don’t develop ourselves we are betraying ourselves. Let’s stop giving sympathy to aspects of ourselves that don’t want to struggle but which needs to be shed. It’s not helping us become who we could be. Who God has called us to be.

Continue emerging!


1 How Experience Changes Brain Plasticity by Kendra Cherry