Play BIG: Welcome Difficulty and Cultivate Hardiness


I have been fasting for 10 days. Given that it is the summer and I live in the UK, this fasting means eating once a day.  This Sunday the family (including me) went for a country walk and picnic. For some of the day it was hot. When we stopped for lunch, after walking up a hill, my fellow family members drank and ate. I did not. Later on, upon returning to the car park, the family ordered drinks and ice cream. I did not.

Why do you do this to yourself? This is the question that has been posed to me more than once. I can see why this question is asked: I am not religious so am not obligated to fast; It is not like I am fat and so some fasting might be beneficial to me; It is not like fasting will elevate my status or earn me riches.  So why fast?  Why bring on this difficulty on myself?  Why welcome this difficulty? Why rejoice in this difficulty? The following passage provides a pointer:

Hardihood is a quality supposedly created by difficulty, and I have always felt it to be stimulating virtue. I like people who have it, and that must mean I like people who have been disciplined by hardship, which is true. I find them realistic, not easily daunted, and that make few childish claims. This also means that the hardness of life …. creates the qualities I admire.

Suddenly I wonder – is all hardness justified because we are so slow in realising that life was meant to be heroic? Greatness is required of us. That is life’s aim and justification, and we poor fools have for centuries been trying to make it convenient, manageable, pliant to our will. 

What I cling to like a tool or weapon in the hand of a man who knows how to use it, is the belief that difficulties are what makes it honourable and interesting to be alive.” 

– Florida Scott Maxwell, The Measure of My Days

My experience shows that one’s being and one’s skills grow in embracing and taking on difficulties and hardship. It occurs to e that I have been left diminished wherever I have taken the easy path.  Allow me to share two examples from my life:

1. When I was young I was a whiz at doing maths (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) in my head. This fluency was acquired through persistent disciplined practice. Then the calculator arrived and my teachers instructed us to buy-use calculators in secondary school (age 11+). One day I realised I was no longer fluent in doing even simple maths in my head. I found myself both sad and disappointed.

2. My wife is an excellent cook and she used to do the cooking. My role and contribution was limited to setting the table and clearing up afterwards. Then I invented and lived from the possibility of being a good cook. Now my Sunday mornings, usually between 9:00 and 13:00, are spent cooking Sunday lunch. I now show up for myself and others as a capable cook. I have traded ease for a difficulty and in the process enlarged my sense of myself as a capable person who can learn new skills when he goes about it the right way. And the listening of me by my family as altered: they now listen to me as a good cook.

I invite you to play BIG by inviting-welcoming more difficulty/hardship into your life. And using this difficulty-hardship as a scaffolding that enables you to climb and in the climbing learn new skills, bring forth dormant capabilities, and elevate-enlarge your sense of sell and your experience of living.

Conversation with a ‘condemned’ man: life is precious gift


On holiday in the l’isle de Re I came across many people.  Only one, Jean, grabbed my attention with the way of his being in the world.   It occurred to me that Jean was simply in the world making the most of being in the world.  He showed up as being ‘natural’ – just flowing like water flows without any need to make a statement nor to seek any approval/admiration from himself or others.  He occurred to me as  a person at peace with himself and the world.   Jean is retired/elderly (those are the facts) and yet he did not show up that way for me.  He showed up as being physically fit and youthful: his physique, his clothes, the way he carried himself, the car he drove…

What is Jean’s secret?

Was Jean always this way?  No.  He tells me that he was like everyone else going through the motions of living without being alive. He did not focus on what mattered, what called to him, what generated joy within him.  He would procrastinate.  He would let opportunities slip by.  He would let days idly slip by…..  He was immersed in ‘ordinary’ living and not even aware of it.

Then one day 20+ years ago he found he had cancer and that he was a condemned man – the cancer was going to kill him.  It was this death sentenced that freed him from his ‘ordinary’ life and opened the gate to his ‘extraordinary’ living.  This death sentence transformed his view of himself, of his relationships, of his life and his living.

What makes Jean show up as ‘extraordinary’?

Jean does not take life for granted like many/most of us do.  Jean does not complain/whine about life like many/most of us do.  To Jean, being alive is a privilege: life and living show up as precious gift that is not to be squandered. He is clear about who he is and who he is not. He is clear about what matters and what does not matter. He is clear what he likes to do/spend his time.  And being clear he acts on this clarity.  Jean is committed to living fully into and making the most of each day.  Today he thinks through how he wishes to spend tomorrow and when tomorrow comes he throws himself fully into it. Jean does not waste time on ‘surviving and fixing’, ‘making it’, ‘looking good, avoiding looking bad’………… He is too busy living an authentic life and thus has no time, no space, for the rubbish that goes with everyday, ordinary, inauthentic living. 

You and I cannot escape death; we are all condemned to die from the moment that we are born.  You and I can continue to ‘forget’ this inconvenient fact and go about ‘ordinary living’ with our addictions to ‘surviving and fixing’, ‘making it’ and ‘looking good avoiding looking bad’. Or we can live the way that Jean live where every day is a gift and what matters is to simply be one’s authentic self and put oneself fully into the game of life.

How about inventing and living from/living into the possibility of living ‘a life worth living’? 

What kind of a life shows up for you as being a ‘life worth living’ for you? Given that death is sitting on our shoulders ready to tap us and take us away, how long are you and I going to wait to live a ‘life worth living’?