This post was originally published on Young Men’s Nation.
There’s a band called Nada Surf who had a couple of radio hits in the 90’s, including “Popular” that you may still hear once in a while on the radio or on some 90’s alternative rock playlist on Spotify. They kept soldiering on, though, and in 2004 released an album called “The Weight Is a Gift.”
The weight is a gift.
What a perfect sentence to quickly remember an essential reality of the human experience. Why not replace that stupid quote you’ve got stuck above your desk with this one?
You’ve probably heard someone utter the famous sentence from the German philosopher Nietzche, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” Nada Surf’s album name offers a similar sentiment, and the reason it’s so important is that it reminds us that life is inevitably hard for every person in different ways.
We can’t avoid experiencing hardship and we’ll never really know the best thing to do. We’re all guessing wrong at least three-quarters of the time. No wonder there’s an entire branch of philosophy called Existentialism that deals with the tragedy of human existence. Look at this definition from the online Merriam-Webster dictionary:
“(Existentialism is) a philosophical movement… centering on analysis of individual existence in an unfathomable universe and the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad.”
This is life, gentlemen! We can strive to lead lives of character, and as a result, we’re almost guaranteed to come out ahead in the long run, but no matter what there is no way we’re going to avoid hurting others unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly, which is the worst kind to get over). We’re going to be weighed down by the eventual realization that we can’t actually do whatever we want with our lives. We’re going to find out that we can’t follow a dream without making seriously difficult sacrifices with friends, family, sexual partners and other things we thought would just come easily.
Yet, the weight that slowly builds up on our hearts and minds is a gift.
It’s a gift because it gives us wisdom and perspective. It allows us to feel proud of ourselves for NOT doing the thing we used to do, and realizing our situation got just a bit better as a result. That’s just as good a feeling as killing it on a final exam or getting that job you thought you wouldn’t. It may not give you as big of a rush, but those quieter, more subtle victories we have with ourselves are often the ones that change us on the deepest level.
The weight is a gift because it also keeps us humble, which allows us to lead with emotional flexibility in our daily interactions with others.
Lastly, when we remember that the weight we feel on our chests from that breakup or that fight we just had with our dad is a gift to make us better human beings, we can ride out the inevitable downward swings in our emotions and not let them overtake us and launch us into depression.
We all end up in holes sometimes. The trick to life is figuring out what to do while down there. Let me repeat: There is no way to avoid holes. You will have a miserable life if you grip to your daily experiences with white knuckles doing everything you can to avoid feeling crappy.
So what to do when we fall in a hole of our own making, or even made by someone else? Do we claw and scratch and panic and yell at ourselves for falling in the hole? I suppose we could.
Or we could accept and appreciate the intrinsic value of falling down, of failing.
The weight is a gift. Remember this, always.