O’BRIEN: Savoring the Struggle
Brain Waves

The American abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher once said, “It’s easier to go down a hill than up it, but the view is much better at the top.”

This quote particularly resonated with me at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships in Sacramento, Calif., last month: Beecher’s words pushed my teammates and me to exhaust every ounce of energy and strength that we had on the racecourse. When I started to think that the pain was perhaps too great to endure, these words are what sustained me until crossing that finish line. Why would we want to finish at the bottom of the hill when we could get the view from farther up?

Anyone can get in a boat and paddle their way to the finish line. But if you don’t put in the effort, crossing the finish line will not be nearly as rewarding. The time dedicated and sacrifices made leading up to IRAC made crossing the finish line a powerfully rewarding moment. Crossing the line, we closed the end of our season feeling on top of the hill, with an optimistic view for the coming seasons.

But Beecher’s words apply to more than just athletic competitions: They can also relate to academic pursuits, career goals and other personal ambitions. Moreover, the concept of the hill is important to keep in mind for people of all ages and backgrounds.

For some students, it is easy to be lost in a haze over summer break, becoming lethargic and apathetic to opportunities that require higher degrees of mental or physical exertion. Nevertheless, it is important to continue challenging ourselves and to consciously seek ways in which we can further excel in the various facets of our lives.

We, as humans, love challenges. Very few people would say that they enjoy endeavors that require no effort. The actual act of suffering may not seem worthwhile; yet, it is the process of successfully conquering a challenge that eventually feeds into greater satisfaction and fulfillment. Nothing that is truly rewarding can be done effortlessly, without a little suffering or loss.

There are different degrees to which people are willing to suffer. Still, I firmly believe that those who choose to suffer — even when it is difficult in the moment — are those who experience the greatest satisfaction in the long term. They are the people who see challenges as opportunities for future contentment. They understand the potential reward of the future, and thus, they accept the momentary hardships in exchange for future satisfaction.

One can wander through life aimlessly, but one will be destined to end up at the bottom of the proverbial hill. Yet, there is no sense of accomplishment or pleasure at the bottom of the hill. Meanwhile, the people who have climbed to the top of the hill are in high spirits.

Suffering in the moment earns eventual satisfaction: the view from the top of the hill. Those who choose to challenge themselves see the potential fulfillment and rewards that lay ahead of them. In contrast, those who shy away from the climb may avoid suffering in the moment, but in return, get no satisfaction — no magnificent view from the top of the hill and no reason to celebrate. Ironically, the very people who choose to avoid struggling in the short term by not climbing up the hill will eventually suffer later on when they realize the potential fulfillment of the climb.

Naturally, most people do not consciously want to suffer, and yet suffering — challenging ourselves, undertaking endeavors that will pay off in the long run, even if they force us to struggle in the moment — is a necessary part of our lives. This summer, find a hill to climb and make the effort to reach the top. Though in the moment the challenge may seem too difficult to surmount, the struggle could ultimately be a rewarding experience.

Elisabeth O’Brien is a sophomore in the College. Brain Waves appears every other Friday.

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