I am writing this article for two predominant reasons. One, so I can have a tangible point of reference when I reflect upon this season of life I have been through. Two, the possibility that the lessons I have learned may inspire one person to not give up on life as struggles confront them.
“Believe in yourself, take on your challenges, dig deep within yourself to conquer fears. Never let anyone bring you down. You got to keep going. “ ~ Chantal Sutherland
If you think you are immune to hardship or difficulty, you may be more naive than a child who thinks they are invincible while walking into a blazing furnace. At some point and time in your life, the universe, a deity, or a deviant spirit (depending on your belief structure) will punch you in the face. Hardship and struggle don’t care about your social status, race, bank account, or religion. Every human organism is faced with a tailored struggle uniquely prescribed for them.
Do you agree or disagree? Because if you find yourself aligning with the latter you may want to go on a long walk on the beach with reality and then come back to reading once you have awoken from your stupor. HA! I mean you can disagree, you do have that right.
Seriously, though, if you do not believe hardship or difficulty is a reality that is an unbiased affliction that everyone encounters in some shape or fashion, this article is very likely not for you.
Now, if you are still reading and curious what my uneducated thoughts are on this topic, it is important for you to understand one part of my vocabulary that I will use consistently in this writing, which is “darkness.” It is essential for you to understand how I will be wielding this word.
Let’s jump into the context/definition I will be using for this word and then we can really start getting somewhere.
First, the context and reference to our shadow have importance if you want to understand where I am coming from.
“In Jungian psychology, the "shadow", "Id", or "shadow aspect/archetype" may refer to (1) an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself, or (2) the entirety of the unconscious, i.e., everything of which a person is not fully conscious. In short, the shadow is the unknown side.” ~Source
Over at Academy of Ideas, there is some great foundational content on this topic that you can check out. Here are a few excerpts I wanted to highlight from the article I linked.
“Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.” (Carl Jung)”
“Man has to realize that he possesses a shadow which is the dark side of his own personality; he is being compelled to recognize his “inferior function”, if only for the reason that he is so often overwhelmed by it, with the result that the light world of his conscious mind and his ethical values succumb to an invasion by the dark side. The whole suffering brought upon man by his experience of the inherent evil in his own nature – the whole immeasurable problem of “original sin”, in fact – threatens to annihilate the individual in a welter of anxiety and feelings of guilt.” (Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, Erich Neumann)”
Now, I am not going to fully dive into the topic of one’s shadow, if that is something intriguing, you will have to find your own answers. The next part, which heavily influences how I will be using the word darkness can be articulated pretty well in the next few sentences.
It can be internal or external challenges that demand a human to overcome the obstacles which they feel unequipped to face. The hurdles can be a physical, social, mental, or other aspects of life that do not have the slightest respect or care for where you are at in life whatsoever. These are the decisive moments as a human, where we are faced with a decision on how or if to confront what is set before us.
The last thing I want to clarify, in the following sentences darkness will not be a replacement for demons or negative spiritual entities. Or neglect of lighting. Ha.
Now that we have a foundation to work with it’s time to jump into the nitty-gritty of the content.
One thing my life has been relentless in teaching me is that the hardships I survive and overcome generally pale in comparison to what will happen in my future. For example, in my early twenties the first woman I fell in love with and got emotionally stuck on, taught me many important painful lessons that equipped me to face even greater relationship pains I am being faced with many years later.
When I intentionally choose to reflect upon my life, I start to recognize a pattern of darkness confronting me. Sometimes I had fought it, came to terms with it, or simply ignored it.
The further I walk down the path of personal development and deeply caring about my mental health, the reality of darkness and my shadow become a crucial part in my journey of dealing with hardship.
My life currently feels like it has been a shit show honestly. I wrote a little bit about it in this article here, “Why Is mental health important? Thoughts provoked by a traumatic brain injury.” I think I will jump into it a bit more, though, just for the sake of transparency and reality.
A little over two years ago, I chose to leave a stable senior job in a business I had helped my brother(the owner) build. We had overcome many obstacles and grew from him and myself to around 30/40 employees around the time I had left. I’m not proud of how I exited that job, but I am glad I chose to pursue my dreams of becoming a business owner myself.
About a year after that, I made another decision that surprised many around me. I sold my car and bought a one-way ticket to Eastern Europe to pursue a woman I was interested in. I traveled to a few countries in the following year. I fell in love with this woman and was consistently and positively impacted by her. While abroad I continued to build my business predominantly through the tools of the internet and phone, but I was struggling and if no one has ever told you, building a business is a challenge. I love it, but after a year of living abroad the financial spreadsheets didn’t care about my emotions or self-beliefs, I had to make an adjustment.
As the reality of my business was starting to create a significant amount of pressure, living in a country where I did not grow up in or speak the language started to wear on me. Then relational stress with a close highly valued friend started to rise. I got into a bad argument with my girlfriend (whom I loved deeply) but in the heat of the moment, I chose to break up with her. Lastly, though I didn't know it while this all happened, but the stress of these fronts and a couple others all came to a head at the same time and broke me in that moment.
So, I moved back to the States and coordinated a job to work while I could continue to work on my business. After three weeks of being back in the U.S. and working for two weeks, I mentally woke up in a hospital after crashing on my longboard. Apparently, I had fractured my skull and encountered my first traumatic head injury. This is when reality began to set in for me.
I had pushed away a woman I loved deeply, was under a decent amount of financial stress, could not work, could hardly think, couldn’t take care of myself, was unable to maintain my business, and had no place to live. I know things could have been worse, but I also do not want to belittle what I was faced with.
My darkness was no longer a pest that I could keep at bay by being a busybody. I was submerged in a full-blown war. I was confronted with one of the greatest storms in my life. There are times when I find myself being dramatic, but it was at this point in my life that the world felt like it was crumbling around me.
Now, if you didn’t know, when you have a traumatic brain injury, the consequences of this are like a fingerprint. Every head injury is different and at the time of the accident, I did not have health insurance. This left me hoping others would help me find ways to heal. I would have to inform and educate myself as I was healing, and I was presented with the reality of how American healthcare works when you lack funds.
A few symptoms which I observed from the head injury included the following:
Lack of emotional regulation.
A volcanic amount of self-doubt, self-hatred, depression, fear, obsession, compulsiveness, restlessness, feeling powerless, stress, and other varieties of spiked internal irregularities.
I felt traumatized.
Neck pain from whipping my head into the ground.
Loss of smell.
Questioning every thought I had.
Fear of not healing.
Crippling anxiety and panic baptisms.
To clarify one thing, I am not being sensational, I’m merely attempting to highlight the predominant issues. My intent is to try and clearly describe some of what I was facing. Also, I do want to note that I am still in the healing process and I will probably observe more symptoms as the future unfolds.
The Reality Check of Hardship
The undesired reality I was faced with wasn’t one I could have ever imagined or anticipated. Yet, my existence and life do not give two fucks about what I think should or shouldn’t happen. I had to wrestle with and confront a pivotal moment in my life of how I would handle this onslaught of darkness invading my milieu.
In no way do I think I handled things perfectly, I am still learning and growing. But I am secure in the fact that I did make some healthy decisions through this process that will have a residual impact on my life for years to come.
A crucial lesson I experienced, was that I needed to face my darkness or become apathetic and a victim. Fortunately, for the most part, I chose to confront what was before me, and the results startled and surprised me.
I found myself in a rhythm for a few months early on, where I was confronted internally with fears, depression, anger, and other emotions that consumed my thoughts. When these cocktails of internal struggle would be handed over to me I did everything I could to find time to journal, talk with a close friend, or go for a walk to get space to just process and think. Leaning on these tools week after week, I found myself amazed at what I realized about myself as I pushed into and faced darkness as it confronted me.
Self-discovery was not a fruit that was I was trying to attain, but it was a result. I discovered limiting beliefs that I had, self-judgments that were hurting me deeply, and unhealthy relationship expectations and interactions. In this time of self-observation and process, I discovered that I had spent years of my life trying to make others happy at the expense of my own mental well-being, or I had done things which I had the ability to say "no" to, but chose to do them out of social obligation regardless of my principles.
Essentially, as I faced my darkness, I exposed areas of my being that I was oblivious to or had previously and intentionally ignored. Here is a link to a short Jordan Peterson clip he has another great way of looking at this topic. Video Link. If you have a few extra minutes I suggest you watch it.
Anyway, the fractured skull was impacting my self-belief to the core and it was a painfully good thing that was occurring. If I were to summarize what I have learned through this process so far, I think the following few sentences should suffice.
When I confront my darkness, I am choosing a difficult path which demands me to honestly evaluate the current reality I live in, take ownership for every aspect of my life, no longer blame others for my struggles, and accept the fact that life does not care what I am going through. This confrontation of the dark seems counter-intuitive… But in reality, it is one of the quickest paths to the opposite. Truths, personal evolution, and maturity await on the other side of this impediment. Darkness is a gatekeeper for personal triumph, freedom, and development.
Needless to say, I have discovered a profound lesson amid this stormy darkness. If I want to become a strong, loving, stable, impactful, and ideal man, I need to confront this shit on the regular. I have never encountered such a shot of healthy personal development and maturity on this level previously.
The Day to Day
Now that you have a better feel for what has gone on in my life, I feel nudged by my intuition to share some of the day-to-day aspects of my existence. Now, I am not talking about my lackadaisical schedule, a heart bleeding from romantic risk, or my empty bank account. No, I want to share with you the very thing you are confronted with on a daily basis. The choice to take or not to take action for what we want in life.
Walking through the dark tunnel of healing from a head injury, there were parts of my brain that I could not connect with or experience. One area that was difficult for me was no longer being able to identify or unite with the vision I had for my life. I couldn’t drink from the well of inspiration and motivation to find relief when I was down.
It took almost four months after my head injury before I could access and attain the encouragement I needed to move forward. I am so grateful that I was eventually able to find that happy place in my brain once again.
Why I reference that part of my mending? Because for the past few years I have found the motivation from my desire for what I want my future to be. I have worked very hard and risked more than I thought I could in pursuit of my dreams. Not being able to connect with or find daily motivation was a bizarre side effect that forced me to adapt.
This brings me back to the day-to-day, I had to face the status of my life, believe that I would heal, and just be patient. This made the day-to-day almost unbearable. I was trapped in my thoughts, emotional pains, and the unknown of if my brain would ever heal. I had a choice to confront or run away from all of this.
I was pushed to make daily decisions that would help provide tangible points of reference in the healing process. As previously mentioned, journaling about my darkness allowed me to keep track of how I was thinking and improving. I bought a used car to fix so I could feel some sense of control in my life because I often felt powerless. I was provoked by friends to verbally declare that I was going to have a good day. The last example that I will use is I also did things that made me feel safe and grounded, like going to a park or hanging out with friends.
The reason I’m sharing these examples is because I want to highlight the day-to-day. As living beings, we are faced with a constant pressure of how we will handle our existence. Will we choose to be victims or victors?
“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” ~ Arnold Schwarzenegger
Darkness for me often holds hands with discomfort. In my years of writing and speaking with men about personal development and masculinity, an extremely common thing I have observed is the desire for confidence but the lack of willingness to face discomfort. It is important to note that the more discomfort a human chooses to face and overcome, a common byproduct is an increase in confidence. Here are two articles I have written on confidence if you feel like diving into that topic.
How can we as humans embrace the reality of discomfort? Is it even worthwhile to do so? Part of me wants to run back to the safe place which I find comfort in even though I am fully aware and know that this is not how life works. Plus sailing away from discomfort is similar to a child trying to delay puberty.
As an adult who is trying to navigate life, I have learned that it is vital to expect discomfort in the pursuit of dreams. In the past two years of my life I have felt more uncomfortable and stressed than ever before, yet the lessons I have learned and the internal constitution I feel now in comparison to years ago is like night and day.
You could almost say I am addicted to pushing my limits because I love the results it has on my life. Currently, at the time of writing this article, I am rebuilding my life. I have to figure out how to make money as a self-employed individual. I am a single male who doesn’t enjoy the single life. I have to find a place where I want to call home, and in the midst of all that, I need to stay loyal too and fight for my dreams.
Even though I have just exited one of the darkest and scariest moments of my life, I am being faced with another wave of discomfort. I am not alone; I have a great family and incredible friends, but I still am required to make decisions for myself. I have to face and overcome the obstacles in front of me and right now that is hella uncomfortable.
So how do I tackle this? How do I conquer what feels impossible to me? The same way I used to when working as a project manager for an electrical contracting company. I would take the blueprints for a massive year-long project and break it down into tangible steps, and work through them till the job was done.
This is the present darkness I face. That shape-shifting mother-f-er is always testing me relentlessly. I could use the excuse that I am weary and just need a break, but darkness does not care. Darkness can either be my fuel or my demise. It is entirely up to me how I handle my life and choose to act.
This is why discomfort is so important. It reveals to me the ability and strength I truly have. It reveals to me my weaknesses and fortitude. It is an opportunity for me to grow and develop as a man. I am doing what I can right now to address the challenge in front of me and find the good in the midst of a storm.
“Be not afraid of discomfort. If you can't put yourself in a situation where you are uncomfortable, then you will never grow. You will never change. You will never learn.” ~ Jason Reynolds
Honor and surprise are two things I feel if you have made it this far in reading. I have spent a significant amount of time and thought into this and I hope that you find some sense of encouragement or revelation in the exposure of my life.
I want to conclude this with a few statements I feel are relevant to this discussion.
If you are going through some difficulty or facing your darkness those around you may not understand or relate. This is normal.
You have the ability to tackle discomfort and problems that are in front of you. It just might take more work than you want.
The reality of life is that there is no mercy or bias in regards to the delivery of hardship in our lives. Yes, we can instigate, prolong, or subside the stages we are going through, but if your mom just died, or your business just failed, life does not take that into account.
What you have learned in the past will equip or help you with what is coming in the future.
You get to choose how you react to what is put on your plate.
If you find yourself in a dark place, find someone who has gone through something darker, and find inspiration from them.
Don’t become a victim do your best to become a victor.
Get professional help. Hire a coach, therapist, or go on a retreat. That is assuming you have the means to do so. If you don’t have the finances, find videos online, read books, or listen to podcasts that inspire you.
Seriously, though, I believe in you, and I hope you rise up to the challenges that are in front of you. If it makes you feel any better, I pushed away a woman I loved, I have a business that isn’t making money, I have never been in this much financial stress, and I don’t have a permanent residence currently. Oh, I almost forgot, I am healing from a traumatic brain injury also. YET! I have hope and motivation to keep moving forward.
It is my desire that you leave this article with a sense of hope and vigor. Face your darkness. Live as a victor. Buy me a beer one day.
I wish you the best, if you find this writing relevant in any way, I hope you share it.
With regards and coffee,
Founder of The Man Effect