Sunday, April 23, 2017

Weekly Inspiration: Challenges Are a Part of Life

I recently finished reading a memoir that I found very powerful and moving: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (my review at the link - no spoilers). Ostensibly, it's the life story of a female scientist and her work, but Hope also writes in a very open, honest way about some personal challenges she's faced. I don't want to spoil the book for you with too many details, since she doesn't address these issues until later in the memoir, but take my word for it - they are considerable, sometimes horrifying trials that she still struggles with today. The book also talks a lot about her science and the various problems she's overcome to get where she is today: an award-winning scientist who runs a well-respected lab. She is also happily married with a child she loves and a long-time lab partner who is also her best friend.

Here's what Hope says early on in her book:
"I know damn well that if there had been a way to get to success without traveling through disaster someone would have already done it and thus rendered the experiments unnecessary, but there's still no journal where I can tell the story of how my science is done with both the heart and the hands."
          - Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

She is describing the scientific process in her lab (and why she wrote this book), but she is also talking about life in general and how challenges are just a normal part of life. You have to go through the tough stuff to get where you are going.

This passage struck me for several reasons. First, one of the best lessons that life with chronic illness has taught me is that everyone has their challenges. You may not know it when you meet someone - in fact, challenges (like our illness) are very often invisible - but everyone is dealing with their own stuff. It is just a part of life. You can't have the happy times without the struggles.

I was also struck by this concept that to end up where you are today, you must go through the stuff you went through to get there. There's no short-cut. Now, maybe you're not happy with where you are today or you still focus on your old life and where you should have been if illness hadn't interrupted your life. Nevertheless, down the road, there may be some good - even happy - outcomes ahead for you, outcomes you could never have gotten to on your old path.

I certainly still miss the work I used to do, helping companies do what's right for the environment while also improving their bottom line. That was very rewarding work. But living with chronic illness led me to a completely different life, where I am able to help other people in a totally different way. I can now use my own experiences to reach out to those in need, whether through this blog or Facebook groups or locally. It's a very different life than the one I used to live, but it is just as rewarding.

I think these concepts apply personally, too, not just to your work or purpose in life. Perhaps if I'd never have gotten sick, I would never have learned the value of slowing down or finding joy in small things. I might not be as close to my husband or my kids, if we hadn't spent so many years of sick days together. Certainly, I have lots of good, close friends whom I never would have met in my old life.

It's an interesting thing to think about: how all your experiences - good and bad - have made you who you are today. How, without your struggles, you would be a different person.

I'll leave you with one more quote from the book that really struck me. I wish everyone had Hope's experiences and insights on this topic:
"Working in the hospital teaches you that there are only two kinds of people in the world: the sick and the not sick. If you are not sick, shut up and help. Twenty-five years later, I still cannot reject this as an accurate worldview."
           - Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

How have your struggles made you who you are and led to your life today?

P.S. As I explain in my review, this is also a very funny book - highly recommended!

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