A few years ago I went through a bad breakup. The kind of breakup that got all my friends spending all their free time with me, because they feared what I’d do if left alone.
One of my friends, trying to make me feel better, gave me the following advice, “Why are you crying over a girl? Others have lost empires.”
You’ve probably heard something similar being presented as a quick fix for any dark night of the soul.
The truth is that comparison can often help us put thing into perspective, and most of the times, we realize how ridiculous we are. Realizing that others have lost empires, or that children are starving in Africa, or whatever analogy we might use, has the benefit of making us realize how selfish and childish we are in our desires.
It’s one of those smart life hacks that work every time… in about 60% of the cases.
You see, when you go through a genuine dark night of the soul, when you’ve lost everything you had, when you’ve gave it your all, when you get hit by the punch you didn’t see coming, it does not matter who’s starving where, or who lost what.
There’s no life hack or shortcut to help you.
And this is one of the things that any clever self-improvement writer won’t ever tell you about.
Want another example?
You should toss a coin in the air when you’re indecisive, because as soon as the coin is in the air, you know what option you truly want.
60% of the time… it works.
But when you can’t decide, because the issue is so complex and there are so many ramifications, reactions, and side-effects, that coin is not going to do much for you.
You won’t have the heart to take the action it dictates anyways.
There are countless hacks that seem quite clever, but they don’t work when we most need them to, because we are addicted to seeing the world in black and white, and we are addicted to the quick fix, to instant gratification, to the how-to guide.
The bitter truth of life is that, sometimes, there’s no shortcut or life hack that can help you.
A true dark night of the soul is the kind of experience that reveals who you are deep down. It reveals not the things you know to be true, but the things you feel to be true.
That breakup I was talking about? I felt like my heart was breaking, over and over again, and even though I understood that there were much more important things in life, and I had yet to lose it all, I still felt hopeless and helpless in a way that no words could heal.
I often say that life is pain, and not in a way that is supposed to make people hate life, or give up, or whatever. I said that because it’s the one thing we must always expect from life.
Doing what is love demands sacrifice, and sacrifice has to hurt, otherwise it’s not a sacrifice.
Loving someone demands passion, and passion literally means “to suffer.”
The same for patience. Being patient means to suffer.
Everything you do is kind of painful, and every once in a while it becomes so painful that no life hack or shortcut can help you.
Yes, those hacks sound smart. Those hacks and short how-to guides and clever quotes offer you a bit of clarity, a bit of perspective, but they don’t become your emotional reality when you are carrying a hell within you every second of every day.
Self-help gurus demand of people who are depressed to take massive action. And I guess most people know that they should take action, yet why don’t they?
Because it feels impossible. Because that first step feels like an insurmountable obstacle.
Here’s another life hack: sit in front of a mirror whenever you feel sad and force yourself to smile. After a few minutes you will feel genuinely happy.
It works. Sometimes.
But when you’re world is falling apart, when your heart is breaking into tiny bits and pieces, that hack just won’t do the trick. You will sit there, in front of the mirror, a stupid grin glued to your face, and you will soon break down and cry.
The true dark night of the soul, the complicated and difficult problems, the rock bottom, all of them demand of us that we become someone entirely different. This cannot be achieved via clever hacks and shortcuts. This is the back-breaking, never-ending, and cruel job of forging a self that is different, a self that becomes indistinguishable from the struggle that was required to build it.
This is why those shortcuts don’t work. You need the struggle, and you will forever be bound to it.
The world of personal development and self-help is often flooded with these sort of tips and tricks, and while they do help one develop much needed life skills, the most important skills cannot be taught or learned.
They are only developed after years and years of struggle.