Existential Psychology


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“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”
-Sigmund Freud

If you are struggling in your life right now, and most of us are struggling in one area or another, take heart, clear your head, refocus, and keep grinding. Like Freud says, it’s often not until long after the fact that we come to appreciate how rewarding facing and overcoming challenges can be. Think for example of a really difficult workout. The pain in the moment makes you want to give up, it seems too hard, but afterwards what you feel is pride and elation, a sense of accomplishment and the desire to make future workouts challenging too.

Regardless of how smart or capable someone is or how many advantages they have, nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished without struggle, blood, sweat, and tears, and the existential reality is that there is no reason to be proud of your life journey unless you confront and overcome many challenges along the way.

The challenges we face are usually not the ones we hope for or expect, but we always have the existential freedom to react to them as we see fit. You can choose to react to circumstances that seem unfair with courage and determination, using talents and personality traits unique to you, and what once seemed meaningless becomes meaningful because your attitude infuses it with meaning.

We often wish things could be easy, smooth sailing as far as the eye can see, but without struggle, without the opportunity to face and overcome difficult circumstances, we get bored and we risk ceasing to grow as people. We have written a lot about the zone of proximal development, which is the area where mastery is achieved most quickly. We don’t want this zone to be too easy, we always want our tasks to be challenging but doable, and we want to constantly adjust the zone upwards to reflect our increasing skills.

Don’t shy away from the struggle; it’s the fastest way to self-actualize. With a mindful attitude you can determine if what you are going through is too far above your zone of proximal development, meaning that you need outside help. We all need help sometimes. Most of us are capable of handling much more than we believe though, and we don’t know how much we are capable of until we give everything we have.

It’s easy to get caught up in the negative self-talk, thinking “Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Other people have it so much easier.” But the attitude puts you in a holding pattern, giving you an excuse to give up because outside circumstances just aren’t fair. Forget about fair and unfair. Mindfully accept that the circumstances you face right now are yours and yours alone, that regretting this fact won’t change anything, and that facing your struggle squarely with focused determination gives you the best chance to overcome it. Years from now you may look back on this time as the most beautiful of your life.