How to Be Content While Struggling

Kyle Smith

Photo by Luke Helgeson on Unsplash

“Are we there yet?”

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard this phrase coming from the back seat of the car on a long trip. The patience of your kids has run out, but the trip is not over.

But it’s not only kids who have trouble waiting. We adults are just as impatient, especially when we’re in the midst of the struggle to reach our goals.

Time for a little transparency: Over the last several weeks, I’ve struggled with feeling irritable and unhappy at times. The strange thing was that I was experiencing some cool wins in my personal life and business. But for some reason, I wasn’t finding any joy in these victories.

More than once, my wife and son asked, “What’s wrong? We can tell something’s bothering you. You seem off somehow.”

I didn’t have a good explanation for why I was so out of sorts. Then it dawned on me: I was impatient because I couldn’t reach my goals fast enough. I had zero contentment and couldn’t find any joy in the blessings all around me. I had become impatient with myself and everyone around me.

I knew I had to change my perspective and attitude if I was going to find joy in the midst of the struggle to achieve my goals. So I sat down and worked through several principles that have helped me get back into the right frame of mind and find a sense of joy again.

If you’re struggling to find contentment in the midst of the fight, keep pressing on, these will be helpful to you as well.

1. It’s about the journey, not just the destination.

Have you ever reached a goal, then found it wasn’t as fulfilling as you thought it would be? Me, too. When we focus on the goal itself rather than the process that gets us there, we’re missing out on the joy of the journey.

I’ve always loved the Sheryl Crow song, “Soak up the Sun.” At the end of verse 1, she sings, “It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.” That’s a great principle to keep in mind.

Our contentment in life can’t be dependent on just reaching periodic goals. There has to be more than that. We must learn to find joy not only in the final product (the goals), but in the process of producing it.

If you can’t be happy on the way, you won’t be happy when you get there.

2. The greatest achievers are often the ones who struggle the most.

If you are struggling, you’re in good company.

George Lucas was rejected by multiple Hollywood studios before 20th Century Fox agreed to finance Star Wars. Thomas Edison saw years of work, along with priceless records and prototypes, go up in flames as ten buildings in his plant burned to the ground. Abraham Lincoln dealt with depression, a tumultuous marriage, and enemies within the government all while managing the Civil War and trying to get the Thirteenth Amendment passed.

What did these titans do when they hit a brick wall? They kept chiseling away until they broke through.

What is your “brick wall”? Is it developing a new habit? Struggling with a relationship? Overcoming some type of personal challenge? Figuring out some aspects of business? Wrestling with financial issues?

No matter what it is, you gotta keep working. Don’t give up. Don’t quit.

3. It’s hard work to achieve a worthwhile goal.

Depending on which statistics you read, somewhere between 80-90% of people want to write a book. So why do so many people never even get started? And why do even fewer actually finish and publish a book (either through traditional or self-publishing)?

The reason is simple: writing and publishing a book takes a lot of hard work.

The same logic applies to any worthwhile goal. Maybe you are working on finishing a record, launching a website or a podcast, starting a business, making a certain income, losing weight, or finishing a degree. Those are all worthwhile goals, but they all take time, knowledge, and persistence to complete.

So if you are struggling to be content in the midst of achieving a goal that’s important to you, remember that it will be worth it in the end.

When I was getting ready to self-publish my book The Artist's Suitcase, I ordered a proof copy from CreateSpace to check for mistakes and make sure the cover and formatting looked correct. I can’t begin to tell you how satisfying it was to open the box and see the first print copy of my book.

Suddenly, in that one instant, all the time I spent writing the book and figuring out the self-publishing process was worth it. And it continues to be worth it because of the people who have read it and told me how it helped them.

These three principles have helped me regain the proper perspective to keep pressing on with joy. If you want to dive into this topic even more, I recommend The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday. It’s given me a big picture view of why struggling with obstacles is valuable and reminded me that it’s a vital part of the creative journey.

What keeps YOU going when you’re in the midst of the struggle?

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I write about writing, productivity, creativity, and much more.

St. Louis, MO

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