Growing up, I remember a number of my elders saying that it is life’s difficult times that define us and help us grow. There is definitely wisdom in the saying, but if that is supposed to get us through the difficult times in our lives, it falls short.
In university, I struggled with debilitating depression. The world seemed to be void of anything worth living for. Here once again, friends and elders told me the same things: “Just stick with this, you’ll be stronger in the end,” “It’s ok—you’ll look back on this as a time that helped you grow,” “Don’t worry, this will get better.”
If felt like I was sinking in quicksand and all people could tell me to do was hold my breath, because at some point, maybe I would come out.
The problem with difficult times is that they seem so overbearing, you don’t know if you can even hold on for the “stronger in the end” part. When all is dark, it seems like a light at the end of the tunnel will never appear. Hard times feel like they will never end and are crushing you under the weight.
It wasn’t until many years later that I met a counsellor who said something life-changing. He told me that in any difficult season in life—whether it’s work problems, relationship problems, financial issues, mental health struggles, or all of the above—you have to stop looking at it like a marathon. Marathons feel like forever; marathons can crush you. Instead, you have to picture them as a series of short sprints. Sprints are hard, they can knock the wind of you, and they hurt—but they’re over quickly.
The point he was making is that if hard times feel like they’ll last forever, they can crush you. However, if we change our perspective and view them as short sprints instead of a never-ending marathon, the quicksand doesn’t feel as suffocating. Yes, things are hard, and yes, they may take a while to get better. So work really hard when you’re in the middle of a sprint and know it won’t last forever. Breathe through the pain.
And then, he said, after each sprint you should go and get some ice cream—find something indulgent, something that gives you a feeling of enjoyment and reminds you that there is more to life than this difficult time you’re facing. The next sprint may be that day or the next, but take time to get some ice cream.
It is true that hard times make us stronger, and I can look back and see where the growth has occurred. But we need more than that to get us through the dark times. We need to stop looking at the darkness as forever and start thinking of short bursts of work.
And then we need to rest and get some ice cream.