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Teenage worried girl with problem and her supportive mother

“What is to give light must endure burning.” – Victor Frankl

Do you like enduring difficulty?

No?  Me either.

Well, do you want those you most love to deal with adversity?  No?

For most of us it seems that protecting others and ourselves from unnecessary challenges is a worthy goal. In doing so, though, we may be extinguishing critically important gifts that can only be revealed through hardship. Let me explain.

Last week I spoke at a community event celebrating the character and merits of students. These young leaders overcame mighty adversity and achieved unbelievable accomplishments.

There was a 17-year-old who had been abandoned at age three, cycled through eight different foster homes….and was graduating top of her high school class.

There was a recent graduate, just 18, who had never met his father, lost his mother to cancer recently….and was now raising his two younger siblings.

There was a senior in high school who grew up in abject poverty. She worked a full-time job to help support the family while going through high school….Her paycheck helped her sick mother with bills; her excellent grades helped earn her a full academic scholarship to university.

There were 20 other similarly stunning stories.

I listened as their stories were read aloud to an awe-inspired audience. It occurred to me as the students walked across the stage and accepted their awards that the trauma, the challenges, the difficulty could certainly have ruined their lives.

And yet, far from reducing them to ashes, these heroic young leaders were galvanized and made even stronger because of the intense heat.

These examples are certainly unusual and are far from the goal for any child or any family.  We as a community can and must do better to guide young people through perils such as these.

Yet these examples of growing through difficulty and shining through tragedy, are not unique to just 23 remarkable kids.  We see examples of this in our own lives. We know of specific instances from history, too. And we know of illustrations from nature.  Let me share one.

After destructive fires reduce a former forest to charred soil, little tree saplings are frequently planted to spawn new tree growth. Even though the soil is rich with nutrients, unfortunately the vast majority of these planted trees perish.

Intrigued, arborists and researchers wondered if it was related to the conditions these saplings experienced before being planted. You see, while in the greenhouse they are watered the proper amount, at appropriate interventions, and in an ideal environment.  Even though everything is perfect, when introduced to the forest, these little plants die.

So they began creating an early environment for these young trees that was far from perfect. Referred to as falsifying trauma, these seedlings were placed in greenhouses that were inhospitable. The temperature was raised precariously high, then quickly lowered to be dangerously cool.  The sprouts were flooded with water, then forced to go days without water in a drought-like conditions.

Then, these toughened little trees were taken from the greenhouse and planted in recently scorched forest areas. The vast majority, more than 80%, took root, survived, and thrived.

So, why do these durable, little trees matter? And what do the amazing young students we celebrated last week have to do with you, your work, your family, your life?

My friends, it seems wise to keep those we most love from dealing with adversity; we’re protecting them from something bad. At first glance it seems nothing good comes from bad. More careful review reveals that in doing so we may be robbing those we love most from critically important gifts.

The very thing we most fear, that causes the most tension, that ignites the greatest struggles is in reality the very thing that most ensures our prosperity, our resiliency, our vibrancy, and our vitality in life.

Now, this is not a suggestion that we need more chaos or greater challenges to face in life. This is not encouragement to let those with little figure out for themselves a way forward.

Instead, it is a reminder that the success we clamor for is never handed to us giftwrapped; it is never distributed easily.  [Tweet this] | [Share on Facebook]

No. Endurance, durability, determination are the byproducts of striving, of doing, of failing, of falling, and of getting back up.  Sustainable success, real growth, true character are born from embracing not only that which helps us navigate the challenges of the day, but utilizing that revealed grit for the challenges certain to come.

What we all know is that what gives light must endure burning.

It may not be easy. It may not be popular. But it will provide a brilliant light not only for your life, but for those lucky enough to bask in your glow.

This is your day. Live Inspired.

Do you know someone who has overcome adversity to achieve success? Share their story in the comments below.

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Live Inspired Together is a community of friends changing the world together, starting with their own. In a world that often focuses on negativity, John O’Leary - Live Inspired shares the other side of the story through his member-supported channels (essays, Live Inspired Podcast, video, webcasts, social platforms) to connect our community and share inspiration and actions to live it. Support now.