“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” said Nietzsche in one of his essays back in 1889. Easier said than done when you’re facing unemployment, illness, rejection, or a blank exam paper. We tend to see these as things we need to get rid of. This can’t possibly be the life we wanted.
Several studies confirm what we’ve probably learned from our own experiences: obstacles are our best teachers. When we take a closer look at what obstacles “teach” us, we begin to feel more grateful for them and, perhaps, even cherish them. Matthew Trinetti from the Huffington Post compiled a list of features that make obstacles something to be desired:
They show us who we truly are. In times of crisis, our real selves shine through. In those tough moments, we learn much more about what we can change, and about the different ways we should look at the world and the people around us.
They serve as indicators for future decisions. The negative experiences provide us with a clearer picture of the inevitable consequences of certain choices. So, when facing a similar decision, we already have the path to follow to avoid suffering.
They give us a chance to become stronger. Fear is part of our nature, and without opportunities to strengthen our courage, certain fears will haunt us throughout life. That’s why obstacles are the ideal way to test and boost our bravery.
They help us find our purpose in life. Christian writer C. S. Lewis, in his book The Problem of Pain, wrote about how a life without hardships leads us to value things of no real worth, the “quagmire” where we feel comfortable and wouldn’t leave unless prompted by troubles. When obstacles appear in our path, when suffering weighs upon us, only then can we grasp the bigger picture and rightly set our life priorities.
They can bring inner peace. When we encounter obstacles that surpass our ability to overcome, we realise how little control we have over our lives. We understand that we cannot rely solely on ourselves and embark on a quest for our origin and the purpose we want to give to our lives. Once discovered and internalised, the feeling of knowing where we come from and where we are headed will bring us inner peace.
They prepare us for death. Although it may sound grim, obstacles remind us that we are transient, that we are here for a short time, and that death is the end of this journey. We realise that we cannot conquer death on our own. For Christians, this strengthens our faith in the resurrection that awaits the faithful. For those who don’t believe in resurrection and eternal life, death is merely a transformation or a passage into nothingness. In either case, obstacles that provide the perspective of death transform us and help us see life differently.