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Honoring the Difficult

What’s your initial response when you’re confronted with a difficult situation or a tough task? If you’re like most people, you responded with heaviness (it’s so hard) and negativity (it’s so tedious and troublesome), accompanied with a sigh and a groan.

Yet, approaching something difficult doesn’t have to be that way. It’s certainly not that way when we are little kids. It’s a tough task for a 1-year-old to start to walk. He cautiously puts one foot in front of the other, attempts to balance himself and frequently falls.

Does he then give up? Does he think in his little baby language, ‘this is too hard for me; I can’t do this’?

No, no, no! He immediately picks himself up and tries again. And falls again. And tries again. And falls again. Then one day, he’s got it! He’s walking! Taking step after step. The pride and delight on his face is precious. Bravo, little boy!

So when did we start to think that a difficult task is burdensome? Probably it relates to our school years when we were asked to do difficult things that we didn’t intrinsically want to do.

And so we learned to regard difficult as burdensome. Shying away from the tough stuff, we excuse ourselves by saying “I can’t” or “I’m uncomfortable with that.” And in so doing, we shy away from growing and learning and enjoying and honoring the difficult.

Honoring the difficult is an alien concept for many people. We want things to be simple, easy, effortless. Why difficult? Intuitively, you know the answer. You know that whatever is worth achieving is difficult to do, for it requires sustained effort, determination and dedication — whether raising a family, climbing a mountain, working on a relationship or learning a new skill.

You may not view yourself as a person who courts difficult tasks. Well, think again. I bet you have your own story about feeling proud of some achievement despite your initial fears and hesitations. Let me stir your memory by giving you some examples.

Perhaps you rose to a challenge, like 83-year-old Alice. She thought she could never learn to use a computer, but now regularly e-mails her grandchildren and visits Facebook.

Perhaps you took an action even though it would have been easier not to, like Alex, who, although confined to a wheelchair, traveled cross-country to attend his brother’s wedding.

Perhaps you did something difficult because you felt it was the right thing to do, like Gail, who challenged herself to give a eulogy at a friend’s funeral even though she was petrified of public speaking.

Perhaps you chose to do something just to see if you could, like Dan, who psyched himself up to get in shape to run the New York City marathon and finish with a respectable time.

Perhaps you know you’ve done difficult things but never took joy in them (for that would be a sin), like Karen, who decided it was time to celebrate her 60-pound weight loss with friends and family.

Now what about you? Can you remember a time in your life when you have honored the difficult? Taken pride in your achievement despite setbacks and frustration? How do you think you would feel if you took on difficult challenges more frequently without the sighs and the groans? How do you think you would feel if difficult challenges weren’t just something to tolerate, endure and suffer through but were a source of pride, delight and self-fulfillment?

Not sure about how you’d feel? Ask any little kid who has just learned to read. Or has just hit her first home run.

Honoring the Difficult

Linda Sapadin, Ph.D

Dr. Linda Sapadin, psychologist, success coach and author is proud to announce the publication of her new book, Overcoming Your Procrastination: College Student Edition – Advice for 6 Personality Styles available on Amazon. Now more than ever with remote learning, this book is a must-have. If you’re a perfectionist, dreamer, worrier, crisis-maker, defier or please, grab your copy. No longer a student? Get my book How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age – 6 Change Programs for 6 Personality Styles. Visit to subscribe to my free e-newsletter. Contact her at

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APA Reference
Sapadin, L. (2018). Honoring the Difficult. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 6 Mar 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.