The Value of Struggle

The Value of Struggle

This article on Edsurge.com is an interesting collection of research summary around the idea of “struggle”. While “struggle” and “failure” are not the same thing, there is a significant parallel here. The idea is that growth requires us to reach for something beyond our comfort zone, to attempt something that is at least difficult.

I might push back a little on the idea that “struggle” is the sweet spot for learning and growth to be maximized. Pushing to the point of failure does a few things that simply struggling does not. First, failure inoculates us in some ways against the fear and self-consciousness that make failure such a formidable foe to begin with. Second, I think there is a metaphorical case to be made that pushing yourself to failure versus stopping after a struggle but before failure is a little like a weightlifter who stops short of their absolute limit during a workout – the gains are present, but less than those realized by the lifter who pushes through until they simply can’t. Third, if we never risk failure, we never have the confidence of knowing our own limits. This limits our confidence when the stakes are high, and also handicaps our ability to understand our own growth as those boundaries change.

There are times when it’s appropriate to stop short of failure. I think the key is making a habit of being mindful of what each situation calls for, what our purpose is, and understanding the risks of potential failure as well as how they might be mitigated. The point is not to fail for failure’s sake – we all fail quite enough already. The point is to understand the role of failure in our lives, and how we might use it as a tool for our own growth.

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