“The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part. The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.” – Pierre De Coubertin (Founder of the Olympic Games 1896)
I just finished watching a movie based on the true story of Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards. Mr. Edwards was the improbable English Olympic ski-jumper who qualified, and competed, in the 1988 Winter Olympics.
Eddie’s story is uplifting and inspirational. It demonstrates the epitome of perseverance and resilience when one has a singular purpose. Eddie was dissuaded from participating in the sport of ski jumping. He was ridiculed by family, friends, his country, and people around the world. Yet, his conviction was so strong that despite failure after failure, and constant struggle, he achieved his goal… the Olympics.
Although I never strove to be in the Olympics, I have decided to pursue my passion – to help everyone around me find the best version of themselves – despite the odds not being in my favour.
In MBA school I was pushed to calculate probabilities of success in any business pursuit. Everything was mechanical and based on ROIs (i.e. return-on-investment). There was no equity placed on the ‘softer’ aspects of business, such as determination and passion. Numbers, above all else, predicted success.
Fortunately, the world isn’t quite as black and white as business school would have us believe. On the contrary, things are rarely obvious and mathematically based.
In the book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the pursuit of one’s passion quite eloquently, ‘… invest energy in goals that are so persuasive that they justify effort even when our resources are exhausted and when fate is merciless in refusing us a chance at having a comfortable life… we shall be so focused on the actions and events around us that we won’t have time to be unhappy.’
This passage helps bring light to the conundrum of living a ‘happy’ and meaningful life, while at the same time ‘struggling’.
Understanding that struggle isn’t a binary concept (that there are degrees of struggle), we begin to accept that everyone is struggling in some relative fashion. Everyone. This is important to internalize because when we’re in the thick of dark times, we may feel alone. We aren’t.
Armed with this knowledge, our focus needs to shift to making our struggles worth it. If we’re chasing that which is deep in the core of our being, we can’t lose. We can’t lose because the struggle is growth, and growth in areas of utmost importance results in happiness.
Yet, if we’re struggling while not pursuing our passion, while not pursuing that which we’ve found (through trial and error and experience) to be fulfilling, the struggle quickly becomes a tragedy.
I’ve decided that if I’m going to struggle, it will be doing something that draws from my best self. There is no other way to live. We just need to make the decision. And, hey, we may just surprise ourselves with a smile now and then 😉
“When you’re struggling with something, look at all the people around you and realize that every single person you see is struggling with something, and to them, it’s just as hard as what you’re going through.” – Nicholas Sparks (Dear John)