It's supposed to be hard

BY  Louis M. Morgner
November 22, 2021

No matter where you study, at an Ivy League university, or a local community college, chances are studying as well as the contents will feel hard. I remember vividly how the first semesters at University overwhelmed me. The pace at which learning moved forward made me feel like I was constantly behind things. Constantly not getting things as quickly as I should be getting them. Constantly spending long hours understanding concepts in the library. Life felt hard. But looking back at this, it was the most transformative time in my life so far.

Everything is relative

Firstly, let me kick off this article by explaining the concept of relativity in human perception. Judgment is formed through the relative context in the form of our personal experience. In other words, our judgment of whether something is good or bad is based on our past experiences. And by definition, these are relative. Every human has different experiences and thus a different perception of difficulty.

“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.” - Ryan Holiday

But what does that mean in the context of University? The thing is, when you're starting out, everything feels extremely hard. You feel challenged. You feel incompetent. You feel lost without any sense of direction. However, how bad is it really? Think about other people in this world that are battling challenges objectively much harder than yours. There are always people who would love to call your problems theirs. Difficulty is relative. So try to see the bigger picture and frame your struggle as a tiny problem compared to others.

What's the worst that could happen?

Closely linked to the relativity of struggle and the perception of difficulty, is a fundamental question that helps you distill the objective reality you are subject to: What's the worst thing that could happen?

In the moment, when you're behind and failing a class, this might feel like the worst thing that could ever happen to you. You feel like a failure and this negativity radiates to all areas of your life. But the sole reason this feels too dramatically bad for you is the context to your past experience. Remember, the perception of struggle is relative to your context. Things might not be that bad after all.

The perception of struggle is relative to your context.

So ask yourself: What is the worst that could happen? More often than not, things aren't that bad. Redoing a course again next semester? Many students do. Failing to explain a concept in class? Everyone will forget the next day. Things aren't as bad as we think they are in the moment, so acknowledge the bigger picture and be resilient to negativity.

Learning requires discomfort & mistakes

As mentioned already in the title of this article, it is supposed to be hard. Learning, by definition, requires us to make mistakes and feel incompetent. If you don't make mistakes frequently enough, you're not learning fast enough.

“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” - John Dewey

That's why you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable if you want to become an effective learner. This is an instrumental part of learning. Acknowledge this principle. Learning requires mistakes. And you need to internalize that nature. Only if you build up the confidence to happily fail over and over again in the pursuit of knowledge, you are in the position to effectively learn. This paradigm is an important guide for everything you will ever do in the future.

Learning requires mistakes

Seeing the opportunity of being challenged

Lastly, a key takeaway for the challenging time at University next to the implications of the contents you study is the aspect of challenges as they appear along your journey. What I mean is that you need to see the opportunity of being challenged. This period of your life represented best by the word struggle is just a cultural frame for a hidden opportunity. A hidden opportunity to form your character, build strength & endurance, and most importantly resilience. These traits are not learned by reading or hearing about them. These traits are formed in our most challenging hours. And that's exactly why you need to embrace struggle and discomfort. Not only at University, but in life in general.

As famously put by Ryan Holiday, the obstacle is the way. The message is that obstacles that seemingly challenge you and lead to the consequence of struggle are in fact hidden directions you need to embrace to advance as an individual. That's why giving up is not an option. Embrace your struggle and grow with it. That way, you are able to excel as a person and form a character that is fit for challenges to come.


The early days at University will challenge you. Things will feel hard, you will feel incompetent, and you will get thoughts about the worthiness of University after all. But resist the temptation to give up. Acknowledge that things aren't as bad as you think if you put them into context. Acknowledge that struggle and discomfort are vital components of learning and that only through such you can develop as a person that is fit for life. Things are supposed to be hard, and you should embrace this fact by seeing the seemingly unseeable opportunity this represents. The answer, when in doubt, is gratitude. Gratitude for the context you are in. Gratitude for everything.

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