“You failed.” It’s essentially a verbal punch to the gut. And it’s also what my boyfriend told me recently that got me thinking about the hard truths in life.
This one, in particular, is such a hard truth to swallow that I feel like I need to step in and defend my boyfriend. He was right, I had failed. I hadn’t been acting according to my priorities in life, which meant I wasn’t any closer to achieving my goals. And spinning my wheels this way was one of the reasons why I was starting to feel worthless.
I can readily admit now that he was right, without any shame in myself or hard feelings toward him. But, sure enough, at the time, defensiveness was the first thing to show up. They’re called hard truths for a reason. There were a dozen things I didn’t want to face in myself when he said it: that all my hard work had been misplaced, that I was ashamed of myself, that I had taken steps away from my goals. I could keep going.
Why hard truths are so difficult
But that’s why hard truths are so hard. First and foremost, hard truths hurt people’s feelings so they’re hard to say and maybe even harder to admit to yourself. (Why would you hurt your own feelings, after all?) They may be simple ideas, but what they uncover when spoken out loud is a complicated jumble of emotions that’s really difficult to pick apart. Even if you can and do speak them, the truly hard work doesn’t even start until you’re standing in the wake of a hard truth trying to make sense of everything it uncovered.
But maybe I can make it a little easier for you. I have made way more than my fair share of mistakes, and many of them have brought me crashing directly into one of life’s hard truths. This is the stuff that matters. This is the stuff that can save you. And maybe since the lessons are about me and the emotional mess is mine, they can be easier to apply to your own life.
9 Hard truths that hurt me but made me stronger
I’m bad at a lot of things
I’m a perfectionist, and honestly it’s been crippling. I’m self-aware enough to know that telling myself I’m a failure for every mistake isn’t helpful, but it’s a natural reaction. But, perfectionist or not, no one enjoys being bad at something—and I really think it’s all about context.
I’m really terrible at board games. You probably didn’t think they required enough skill for someone to actually be bad at them, and yet here I am with an impressive losing streak. But the thing is, I don’t actually care that I’m bad at this. If anything it’s helpful for easing tension when you’re playing with more than one highly competitive person. The context matters here.
Board games aren’t my career or relationship, so I’m OK being bad at them. But running and telling jokes aren’t these important aspects of my life either, and yet I feel shame that I’m not better at them. Here’s where the context comes in. If I think about what truly matters to me in life, these things don’t make the cut. If I’m bad at something I care about, like empathizing with my boyfriend, that’s worth working on. Feeling badly about it won’t help me improve. And if I don’t care about it, it’s not worth worrying about at all.
I’m average in the looks department
I dreamt of being a model as a kid, so you can imagine how much this one stung to realize. Especially now that I live in New York, you can easily find someone on the street who’s more attractive than me. It’s been hard working on accepting this one, but two realizations have helped me, one emotional and one logical.
The logical first: This is pure statistics. Attractiveness (by the limited definition we embrace culturally), like many things, probably follows a bell curve. That means very few people are extremely attractive or extremely unattractive. Most of us fall in the middle. The emotional: My looks are only a tiny fraction of who I am as a person, and probably the least interesting thing about me. They say nothing about the depth of my friendships or my perspective on life or my work ethic. And those are the things that really matter to me.
Most people don’t get me
Break down personalities however you want: binary introvert / extrovert, Myers-Briggs personality types, or even Enneagram types. Whichever method you choose underscores how different people can be. And if your internal processes—how you perceive and think about the world and your place in it—differ greatly from someone else’s, it’s going to be really tough trying to truly understand them.
But this one comes with a couple caveats. Just because someone doesn’t get you doesn’t mean they don’t like you. You can still be friendly with people who just aren’t capable of being your friend. And, most importantly, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong about anyone. With enough effort, I truly think anyone can understand anyone else. But that takes time and energy, and often we meet people when they’re already devoting those resources to friends and family they met long before you.
Relationships take work
Maybe I never realized this because the fairy tales always end after the wedding and cartoon characters get married days after meeting each other. Maybe I never realized this because my parents, from the outside, seem to be outliers to this rule. Now that I’m older, I think it’s more accurate to say that my parents mastered ways to work with each other through tough times. By the time I came along, they had it down, even though it still incorporated work into their relationship.
People get complacent. It’s often not their fault. Life has a million and one stresses that can absorb your attention. But your good relationship won’t just continue on that way if you’re stuck in a routine. People also change over time, and a relationship has to grow and morph in order to fit who both parts of the couple are becoming.
My partner can leave me at any time
It’s very similar to the previous point, but worth mentioning on its own. Mark Manson has written extensively on this, so I won’t pretend I’m inventing the wheel. A relationship works at its best when both people realize the other one can leave—and so takes steps to make sure everyone is happy and fulfilled in the relationship.
I’m not everyone’s favorite
This one may be harder to accept than the fact that not everyone likes me or gets me or wants to be my friend. It hurts knowing that people you’ve chosen to make part of your life, like your friends, may not consider you their favorite. Yes, life would be easier if you were your best friend’s best friend. But for a lot of us, it just doesn’t work that way—especially if you meet your best friend later in life. But focusing on what you would change about that one relationship can hold you back from cultivating others.
I’ve had to accept this same thing with my parents. I’m not the favorite child, and that really hurt for a long time. But I finally realized it was holding me back from having a deep, meaningful relationship with not only my parents but also my brother. No, ideally parents shouldn’t have favorites. But parents are flawed humans, too, and realizing that has made me appreciate each member of my family in a new way.
I can be selfish
Everyone can be selfish. Selfishness is a survival mechanism, and it’s important sometimes. But it feels hard to admit that we’re acting selfish because it’s so easy to conflate that with being selfish. Acting selfish once in a while does not mean you’re a selfish person, so there’s no shame in owning the mistake and moving on.
Growth requires difficulty
And our old friend complacency is back. Striving, whether it’s to complete a project or learn a new skill or earn a higher paycheck, is tiring. So it’s easy to slip back into routines that feel easy and safe. But these don’t help us learn and grow. We need to challenge ourselves in order to improve ourselves, regardless of the arena.
But sometimes the difficulty comes before you even start. In order to get better at something, you have to be OK with not being great at it—and maybe even having other people know that about you. I loved learning new languages, but it was always hard for me. Not the actual learning, that came easily. The problem was that at a certain point, memorization didn’t help anymore. I needed to practice the languages. But practicing meant making mistakes in front of other people, which made me feel self-conscious and unintelligent. I needed to get over that first hurdle of discomfort to get better.
The short-term payoff is never better than the long-term gain
Most humans want a lot. We have food cravings, we impulse buy clothes, and we crash diet. It’s part of our psychology. Gaining something right now somehow feels more important than gaining more in the future. But retiring comfortably will always be a better choice than impulse-buys. (I use an easy rule to curb impulse spending and tell the difference between an investment and a passing want.) Finding a healthy lifestyle and way of eating that works for you will always pay off more than a diet that helps you lose 10 pounds that you can’t sustain. Many good things take time, and you need to be willing to wait for them.