The Necessity of Struggle

The two surfing experiences I’ve had were as different as night and day. My first lesson was a blast — the waves were perfect, the instructors were helpful, and I did well regardless of my lack of experience.

My second lesson, on the other hand, was a real struggle. In this article, I’ll be discussing why the act of struggling is not only important, but necessary.

Although I’ve discussed my first surfing adventure in a previous article, I’ll sum it up here in one sentence: It was so much fun I wanted to do it again.

Naturally, this was the reason I went surfing a second time. The thing is, my second surfing experience was nowhere near as fun as the first.

Why not? Well, let’s just say that something was different. I could easily blame my second, less-fun surfing experience on the many outside forces over which I had no control:

For example, I could argue that the surf was rougher — and that’s true, because the waves were much more fierce than they were my first time.

I could also argue that the board they lent me was less manageable — and that’s true too, because the board was almost twice my height. It was much larger than the board I rented my first time.

I could even argue that the instructor wasn’t as helpful — which is also true, since the instructor was focusing exclusively on the things I was doing wrong. During my first time, the instructor was much more encouraging.

Maybe traveling from Michigan to the Jersey Shore wore me out…Maybe the sofa I slept on didn’t give me the good night’s rest I needed…Maybe I wasn’t feeling well that morning…

…or maybe every excuse I was looking for was nonsense.

I knew the real reason why I was struggling: I was out of shape.

When I went surfing the first time, I was in the best shape of my life. I was exercising three times a week, and greeted each day energetically.

By the time I went surfing the second time, I was no longer following my planned exercise routine. Once I fell out of the habit, it was hard to get back into it — I was constantly skipping out on my morning exercises.

Consequently, when I went surfing the second time, I imagined it would be just as enjoyable (read: just as simple) as the first time. The truth, however, is that I was so out of shape that I became exhausted within minutes.

After being thrown around in the surf for half an hour, I literally felt powerless. I could barely climb onto my board. It hurt to paddle against the incoming waves. It was a struggle to get beyond the wave crests to where my instructor was waiting for me. When I finally made it out there, my arms felt useless as he positioned me to catch a forming wave. I stood no chance of paddling fast enough to actually catch it — I was too weak.

As a result, I spent most of my second surfing experience battling the surf. Every time I would paddle out it took me longer than the time before, and it just kept getting harder. I was getting more exhausted with every attempt, and no matter how hard I tried to catch the waves I always ended up being roughed up by them instead.

Eventually, I knew I couldn’t go on any longer. I tried to pick my board up out of the water, but I had no strength left. Bent over sideways in the shallow water, I began to vomit — I overexerted myself.

Correction: Not only had I overexerted myself, but now I was advertising how much I overexerted myself. Children on the nearby beach pointed at me, saying things like “Eww,” and “That surfer’s sick.” My girlfriend Cassie, who I had hoped to impress on this outing, frowned at me sympathetically as I dragged my board up the beach while I offloaded the rest of my breakfast.

Visibly defeated, I set the board down on the sand, and then sat down on it to rest. I would try to describe my unhappiness, but my expression says it all:

Here I am sitting defeated on my surfboard

As I sat there, staring at the waves, lots of things went through my head. Most of it was self-loathing. My masculine ego was desperately trying to come up with reasons why I was struggling so much, when I had previously done it with ease. When my thoughts finally settled, I understood this truism:

Being an amateur at anything is hard. Struggle is necessary for improvement.

That’s the reason I’ve always been reluctant to try new things — I was afraid of being bad at it. Since it’s rare to be an expert at something immediately, I got in the habit of avoiding new things to avoid embarrassing myself.

In hindsight, I recognize that was an awful way to live. Denying the possibility of experience, just to avoid “bad” ones, was foolish. I’m glad I’ve learned to lighten up — because although I initially believed this second attempt at surfing was a bad experience, it was actually a humbling experience:

It helped me understand the necessity of struggle. Without struggle, everything would be easy. Without struggle, achievement would be impossible. Without struggle, life would be boring.

Looking back on it, I realize that I did have fun that day — I was just too preoccupied with feeling defeated to realize it. The next time I’m at the shore, I will go surfing again — and look forward to the struggle that awaits me.

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13 Responses to “The Necessity of Struggle”

#1 Derrick Kwa on 24, Sep, 2007 at 3:32 am

Glad you’re learning to enjoy struggle. I think it’s a really good trait to have (and something I hope to be willing to develop as well). The biggest problem, at least for me, is the issue with ego.

Another thing, I would love to see this kind of attitude being more prevalent in education. That kids from a young age will be taught to appreciate the struggles of life and learn from the failures.

#2 Exercise » The Necessity of Struggle on 24, Sep, 2007 at 3:41 am

[…] exercisefitness wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptBy the time I went surfing the second time, I was no longer following my planned exercise routine. Once I fell out of the habit, it was hard to get back into it — I was constantly skipping out on my morning exercises. … […]

#3 LJ on 24, Sep, 2007 at 10:31 am

I remember one time I participated in a 5k race in middle school with my step dad. I remember doing really well at first… I kept a good pace and started gathering confidence that I could push myself a little harder. It was then I realized that I was way out of shape. By the time I reached the finish line, all the elite runners had finished and were standing by the sideline with their rock solid bodies, cheering the rest of us on. I remember feeling pathetic that I was having a hard time completing a 5k race. When i crossed the finish line, I ended up vomiting all over from overexerting myself.

I thought to myself that I would never be able to do something like that again.

13 years later I completed a 26.3 mile marathon in San Francisco after busting my knee up on mile 15. I trained for 3 months before participating in the actual race. I was in the best shape of my life and even though I was injured, I did the stupidest thing anyone could have done with an injury. I completed the race. I had a goal and that was to complete this marathon. Probably the only set goal I’ve had in my life. Scary.

But you’re right, thats what life is, struggle. Pain is mental. We can accomplish anything we want, if we put our minds to it.

You rock… (:

#4 Bubs on 24, Sep, 2007 at 3:03 pm

Great article, been learning how to daytrade for the past 9 months and the one thing I have learned for sure is that struggling is part of the game.

#5 Bleh on 24, Sep, 2007 at 4:58 pm

I’m through with this website. It’s clear that you have nothing to say.

#6 Rachel on 24, Sep, 2007 at 6:17 pm

Bleh: I think it’s ironic how Shaun wrote a 1000 word article, to which you responded with a 15 word comment, and yet YOU’RE the one bashing HIM for having “nothing to say.” Your comment adds nothing to the discussion besides unnecessary noise. I don’t understand readers like you who get fed up and announce “I’m leaving!” like it’s a big deal. In case you haven’t noticed, it doesn’t cost anything to read Lifereboot. So what are you so upset about?

Shaun: I loved this article, because it shows us that you’re just a real person with real struggles. Don’t let the jerks bring you down!

#7 LJ on 24, Sep, 2007 at 9:30 pm

People like bleh have nothing better to do than to point out that everyone else sucks.

If you don’t like it, leave quietly.

#8 Lawrence Cheok on 25, Sep, 2007 at 1:13 am

Hi Shaun,

I agree with Rachel and LJ. You can ignore Bleh’s comments. I really don’t understand where Bleh is coming from, but that was really uncalled for.

There is a lot of sincerity in your article, and it’s real. This article strikes a chord in me.

I’m for one is constantly struggling with my goals. I believe it’s part and parcel of life; these challenges are meant to shape us into something better than what we currently are. I take solace and reassurance in this perspective.

Coincidentally, I have an article on a similar theme as yours. It’s about how to recover from failures, which you can find at this link:

This article is a result and reflections of my own struggles, and I like to share it with you. I hope you find something worth your time there.

Keep it going!

#9 Bobby Karaoke on 25, Sep, 2007 at 1:12 pm

I agree with LJ… however, she never would have made it past mile 20 had I been there. I would have tripped her and tied her to a telephone poll, while I walked to the finish line. That is what I do; I destroy personal achievement for others. I know what you’re thinking: Boy, that is hard work, Bobby. And you’re right. It’s a struggle, but the gratification is worth it in the end.

#10 LJ on 25, Sep, 2007 at 2:23 pm

Bobby Karaoke doesn’t seem to realize that I have a little secret. Whenever I participate in the act of “life”, I make it appoint to have a weapon on me at all times. My weapon you ask? I carry rabid chickens under my sleeves so that if any unsuspecting bystander decides that they want to trip or mess with me, I’ll just unload these tasty little beasts onto them to peck at their eyes balls.

Now thats what I call smart retaliation!


#11 Thomas on 26, Sep, 2007 at 3:21 am

When I come across people who claim that they are happy most of the time I wonder: Did they live through all their struggles or are they just happy even when their life is a struggle? For me it’s like I have periods of ease and periods of struggle, and when I feel the period of ease is growing larger I start wondering, what the world will throw in my face now, that I have to overcome. (Or maybe I’m throwing it at myself, if you believe in subjective reality 😉 ) I would like to be happy. What to do?

#12 Boink Blogs on 19, Oct, 2007 at 8:45 pm

[…] Necessity of Struggle Shaun Boyd added an interesting post on The Necessity of StruggleHere’s a small excerptIt was a struggle […]

#13 Mosses Lee on 29, Jul, 2008 at 12:01 pm

We can’t have everything with fate. We should do struggle, to have something first, better then to wait for fate.

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