I have not quite reached the one-quarter marker of my life, and I can safely say that I have met many different people during my relatively short stint on this earth.
People come in all shapes, sizes, forms and colors, from the classic fake girl who will be adorable to your face and plot your death behind your back, to the narcissistic biology teacher who enjoys talking about himself so much that I learned more about his (so-called epic) life than I did about evolution.
It is safe to say that I have met more of these questionable people in my life than truly genuine, kind-hearted human beings.
As I thought about this rather sad reality, I started to think about what truly makes a good person. Are they just born with a perfect combination of compassion, empathy, humility and generosity? I don’t think so.
Some of the most classically good people I have met in my lifetime are those who have struggled. And, I’m not talking about the struggle of picking a filter for your Instagram picture, I’m talking about people who have lost it all.
I’m talking about people who have hit rock their bottom and somehow managed to pull themselves out from the depths of life’s challenges; those who have known true despair and vulnerability, to the point that they asked themselves why they should stick around.
Not only have I faced my own individual struggles battling a chronic illness, but I have also witnessed many people around me be dragged through the dungeons of hell for more than their fair share of time.
As unfair as life can be, I have noticed that all of these people have one thing in common: They are truly beautiful. They haven’t become cold or callous and they don’t bicker about the cards life dealt them, yet they grew in strength and battled their challenges head on.
I myself have learned a lot from these people, as I was forced to decide whether I would let my challenges defeat me, or I would soldier on.
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We, as people who have struggled, consciously decide to learn from our pain and wear it as a badge of honor, instead of as a reason to be miserable.
Whether this adversity has come from a chronic illness, the death of a loved one, battling addiction, homelessness, abusive relationships, a difficult upbringing or a disability, there are a million ways an individual can struggle on this earth.
But, when a person is pushed passed the limit of what he or she can handle, we all feel the same thing: despair.
However, what we fail to recognize in these agonizing times is that this adversity is the greatest gift anyone could ever give us. Why? Because we learn from it.
We learn not to judge others and their situations because we hated when people did that to us.
We learn to treat everyone else around us with kindness because we once wished people knew how broken we were before carelessly thrusting their frustrations upon us in the past.
We learn to appreciate and value all that is around us because we know how easily it can be taken away in an instant. We learn how to have compassion and empathy toward others, as we know how nice it was to feel like someone cared.
We learn how to be loyal to those who mean the most to us because we know how much we needed the love and support of those people when it mattered most.
And, most importantly, we learned how to make the most of what life gives us right here, right now.
As I continue to live through my struggles, I look back at who I used to be before I fell ill. Sure, I was nice, polite and just went about my daily teenage business, but I wasn’t half the person I am today. What I am learning will constantly change who I am.
The gift of adversity not only empowers you to become a stronger, kinder, more gracious human being, but will change you from an ordinary person to an extraordinary one.