When the struggle is too real


My husband Dan and I love to watch Shark Tank.  If you haven’t seen the show, the premise is that entrepreneurs pitch their businesses and ask for investments from the five successful celebrity “sharks.”  Every show glorifies hard work, the hustle, and the American dream: that if you sacrifice enough and put in enough hours, you can achieve anything.

It’s a wonderful notion.  But is it true for everyone?


Struggle is good.  It builds character.  As our six-year-old daughter becomes a more confident reader, I see her stumble over words and hate the strain.  It is hard work to sound out words letter by letter, or to skip over unknown words and use context to figure them out.  She wants the grown-up sitting beside her to give her the answer readily so she does not have to lean into the stress. Yet we adults know that perseverance pays off, and we usually give our children time to wrestle with the challenge.

It’s even true for my one-year-old.  His first inclination is to scream or whine whenever he sees food, but he can sign.  Dan and I prompt him, and sometimes the sign comes easily. Other times he is too caught up in his emotions and you can see the effort it takes for him to push his hands together and eek out an “eese” (his closest approximation of please).

Yet there are those points at which it becomes time to abandon ship.  We receive so many messages in our childhood--and in American culture--never to quit.  Years into adulthood I have begun to question the absoluteness of this mantra. We will not all be Olympic athletes--heck, we won’t all even get sports scholarships to college.   We cannot all excel at everything.  There is something to be said for possessing the wisdom and discernment to know when enough is enough.

Hard work only takes us so far--luck and privilege enter the equation too.  

At some point, needless struggling becomes at best stupid and at worst self-debilitating.  To hit our heads against a brick wall needlessly over and over again makes no sense. My twenty-year-old self would not agree, but quitting has its place.  Or perhaps all that is needed is a slight recalibration or a pivot.

Letting go can be a gift, if done so judiciously.  Failure, after all, leads us to grace.

Emily Rowell Brown