Hi everybody, this is Mondays with Mike, a weekly video series where I answer questions from people just like you. Here’s this week’s question:

Does hardship make a person stronger? If so, under what conditions and at what point is it too much hardship? If hardship doesn’t make a person stronger, what does make a person stronger?

First of all, this is a weekly show where I answer questions in generally three minutes or less… this is like a semester in grad school.

The answer for me is it depends. It depends on what you do with that hardship. There are those that will let hardship beat them down. I don’t think hardship is ever something where somebody goes “Bring it.” I think it depends on what we do with the hardship and also the degree of the hardship. There are some people who have gone through excruciating, unrelenting hardship and they are weary. Could it eventually make them stronger? Yes. But it isn’t true that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger – I hate that stupid cliche. It’s just not true! So if you say it, stop saying it.

The next question is if it does make a person stronger, under what conditions, and at what point is it too much. Well, the conditions are the conditions that I just told you about. If the hardship is something that you can learn from and make better and give you more years of experience (like the rings of a tree) then I think it’s helpful. But I want us to be sensitive to people who have had years and years and years of hardship. There is a reason some people come out of hardship and collapse while others thrive. Here’s what I will tell you about hardship, you’re never the same afterward. And I think that’s a good thing. But I do think you get to determine how that hardship molds you or creates you.

The problem that I have is when people say “I wouldn’t change a thing.” Now there are some people who wouldn’t, and I honor you if you wouldn’t. But let me just out myself here… there are some hardships I’ve been through in my life that if I had back and had them to do over, I would absolutely eliminate them. I would not say all my experiences are the rich tapestry of my life. There are some experiences I’ve been through that just sucked out loud! They provided no measurable sense of good in my life, they just sucked! But that’s okay. There are some things that are just BAD and don’t work out. So at what point is it too much hardship? I don’t know, that’s one of those philosophical questions. I guess it’s too much hardship if it kills ya! It’s too much if it completely breaks you down and you don’t have any support or the resources to cope with it.

I think what makes a person stronger is their perspective and their willingness to manage the hardship they face in a way that constantly moves them forward. I don’t think we can minimize that. Mother Theresa is credited with being asked one time if it is true that God never gives you more than you can handle, and the answer she is credited with is “It is true, God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, I just wish God didn’t trust me so much.” I love that phrase. So at what point does it make me stronger? I think I learn to handle and manage it as best I can given my circumstances.

Let’s ask the crew. What do they think?

Crew 1: I agree I think to a certain degree you make a choice to learn and grow from it, and then it becomes a hindrance when the opportunities for growth have stopped. When I can’t take that any further, I need to find whatever decision I can to try and get out of that hardship.

Mike: So it has to do with duration then. The longer I have to endure it, and the opportunities for growth stop, then it’s too much hardship.

Crew 2: I think that on an individual level people know themselves best and when you’ve reached your personal breaking point, that’s when it crosses that line.

Mike: When you reach your personal breaking point. Got it. And some people don’t know where that is. Here’s an interesting story:

I used to do psychological triage, as I mentioned in a previous Mondays with Mike, in an emergency room at the height of the HIV crisis in Laguna Beach, California. I was doing my internship and a doctor one time said to me “Mike, you never really know what a person is dealing with.” And we don’t really know! But then out of that, I was in my driveway one time washing my car. I had a 5-gallon bucket full of soap and water, I’m washing my car, and every time I’d dip the sponge in the bucket would get lower, of course. It occurred to me that day that we’re like that as human beings. It’s like our coping skills are a 5-gallon bucket. Every time we have a stressor or a hardship happen, we dip into that bucket and take out what we need to deal with the hardship or the difficulty. But, a hardship can sometimes be a hole in the bucket, and the bucket can start leaking.

Here’s the thing I want everybody to get. Everybody’s bucket has a different level of coping in it. So my bucket might be full some days, while Johnny’s might not be. To the point about personal breaking points, that’s why it’s so important that we have the coping skills full all the time. We have to be breathing, we have to be making sure we’re having the right ratio between activity and rest, because if we don’t… that bucket goes dry. And when the bucket runs dry that’s when we hit our breaking point and when all of a sudden the hardship is no longer useful.

So keep your bucket full, make sure that you’re aware of the bucket and that the holes in the bucket get plugged as best you can by your inner circle, coping skills, rest, meditation, and by letting go of the uncontrollable.
Take care,

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