“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn—my God, do you learn.” —William Nicholson
It’s a bittersweet truth that the toughest times in our lives are our greatest teachers. During a difficult struggle, we rarely realize that we’re in the painful process of learning, but with the beautiful gift of hindsight, we can appreciate the life lessons we can derive from periods of suffering and discomfort.
Once a tough period in our lives passes, time and distance allow us to understand what we had no choice but to learn the hard way. We spoke to three thought leaders about what they had to suffer through in order to become who they are.
Arianna and I worked at AOL together, where she was revered for her kindness, badass girlboss-ness, and obsession with redefining success (hint: it’s the opposite of burnout). I remember her saying, “Our resumes are not our eulogies.” Because of Arianna, we had nap rooms and mediation resources. I consider her one of the most wise, warm, and gracious women on the planet.
“On April 6, 2007, I woke up lying on the floor of my home office in a pool of blood. I’d collapsed from overwork and exhaustion, having pulled a series of near-all nighters on a college tour with my daughter. I’d promised her I wouldn’t work during the day, so I just moved all my ‘essential’ work to the night, when I should have been sleeping. And my body finally rebelled.
“In the ensuing weeks, I ended up asking myself a lot of questions about what kind of life I was living. And I also ended up making a lot of changes in my life. That led to two books on well-being and success, and the company I’ve just founded, Thrive Global, which is devoted to allowing people to learn the easy way the lesson that we don’t have to burn ourselves out to be successful.” —Arianna Huffington
James became a life mentor for me the day I opened his best-selling book, Choose Yourself. Rarely do you meet a genuine, modern-day disrupter who comes from such a place of truth, experience, and scary-smartness. James taught me about the importance of choosing entrepreneurship over a conventional career path, and my life has never been the same since encountering his work.
“I have lost tens of million of dollars because of bad friends, toxic partners, and people I knew deep down I couldn’t trust, but thought that ‘this one time’ it would be OK; I would make money, and life would be good.
“It’s never about money. It’s about creating meaning and impact in your life and the lives around you. You can only do this if you are surrounded by people you love and who inspire you and who love you and are inspired by you. By being around good people who all want to derive impact from their work and you help each other advance those themes.
“Money, and even happiness, are byproducts. Friendship, meaning, impact, and love are the themes to live by.” —James Altucher
Gabrielle Bernstein: You Can’t Fake Authentic Power
Gabby is a contemporary spiritual guru who made love cool for our generation. Not romantic love, but love as a collective force for social good and personal empowerment. She’s possessed of this unique, no-nonsense style and unfailing ability to elevate the energy of a room wherever she goes (even if it’s just her voice in the book you’re reading).
“When I was 25, I became a devotee of the spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson. One of her books in particular hit me straight in the heart: A Woman’s Worth. After reading the following passage, I was awakened to a power source within me I had never recognized before:
A queen is wise. She has earned her serenity, not having had it bestowed on her, but having passed her tests. She has suffered, and grown more beautiful because of it. She has proved she can hold her kingdom together. She has become its vision. She cares deeply about something bigger than herself. She rules with authentic power.
“At the time, I couldn’t comprehend what it would feel like to ‘rule with authentic power,’ but it sounded fantastic. I wanted to perceive myself as a powerful woman, but deep down, I felt like a weak girl seeking my self-worth from outside circumstances. This passage helped me recognize that there are no shortcuts on the path to my authentic power. I would have to show up for life’s assignments and pass my tests to release all that was blocking me from being my highest self.
“I’ve come to understand that my outside need for approval is what blocked my authentic power. Once I became willing to stop looking out there and look inward instead, my entire life changed. I began to earn my serenity, and learned to find my source of peace and purpose from an inward condition. My neediness melted away, my insecurity weakened, and my self-doubt transformed into self-assurance. In time I became a queen, and today I live in my authentic power.’ —Gabrielle Bernstein
Over the years, I too have learned that you can’t hustle nonstop to the top, that meaning is more important than money, and that if you are willing to allow your true self—flaws and all—to be seen, you’ll experience genuinely incredible things.
Something struck me when writing this week’s column. These lessons have a common theme underpinning them: You kind of always know the truth, don’t you? We know we have to take care of ourselves physically and mentally, and at our cores, we know that love, truth, and authenticity are the only lasting sources of happiness and satisfaction.
The beautiful thing is that your inner GPS is always there to guide you, and it’s available on demand when you get quiet and decide to tune in and listen. Almost all of the lessons I’ve learned the hard way have happened when I’ve betrayed my inner guiding system. For instance, trusting people who let me down, dating people who were wrong for me, or staying in a job I resented for too long. I’ve finally learned to trust my inner knowing, and because no one else is me, I do not have to prove my knowing to anyone else. Neither do you.
So in the words of Arianna Huffington, “Onward, upward, and inward!”Susie Moore is Greatist’s life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest No Regrets column!