Years ago, I attended a class on Cognitive Intervention. I remember on the wall just to the right of where I sat was a sign that read "The hardest and most important lesson in life to learn is to do that which is necessary, even when it is unpleasant and uncomfortable". Simple enough right? I remember thinking to myself how unnecessary this was. I mean, it's just some pithy statement to say what everyone already knew. I don't know why, but I couldn't stop thinking about this, and the more I thought about the sign, the more profound it seemed to me.
A couple months passed, then one day it hit me like a ton of bricks: The very essence of success can be found in that one statement! Failure to apply this principle in our lives has resulted in a general inability to succeed in life. Let me give you a couple examples as a way of explanation...
I once had a job at a linen company that I hated. The work was very physically demanding and dirty, and the more I did, the more they seemed to expect of me. I eventually quit and started working for minimum wage in a labor hall, while I looked for something else full time. However, just before I quit, the head supervisor began expressing his intent to promote me to a supervisory position. The right (i.e., necessary) thing to do would have been to bide my time until I received my promotion, then work for improved conditions at the plant. Had I done this, life would have been much more pleasurable and profitable. But I have always been impatient and my mind was already made up, and this cost me tremendously.
Let me give another example I'm sure many of you are familiar with. When I was a child, I hated school. Though my IQ was high and everyone considered me of above-average intelligence, I had no desire to pursue an education and as soon as I was able, I dropped out of school to pursue a life of vagrancy and idleness. This led me down a road of drugs and alcohol, homelessness, foster care, many other regrettable things. While I'm sure my experiences are more extreme than most of you reading this, I'll wager you can relate to the negative consequences of failing to pursue a higher education. Had I taken an interest in school and gone to college, I most certainly would not have made many of the same mistakes, and there is no doubt in my mind that life would have been more profitable and successful than it is today.
I could go on and on with examples of failure stemming from an inability to follow through on things that are unpleasant and uncomfortable, but I believe the point has been well-illustrated already. Life is full of unpleasant, albeit necessary, situations. As long as we fail to recognize them as necessary and quit when things get rough, we will continue to have a less-than-fulfilling life. The key to success is to learn to recognize what is and isn't necessary. In my opinion that entails an honest analysis of the situation to determine if the result is a positive or a negative one. Will the suffering of our current situation result in a positive outcome or a negative one, and is the outcome more positive than the current suffering is negative? It is important to be honest with yourself.
I should clarify at this time that regret is not productive and you should never allow past failures to hold you back. You are what you are and your past is exactly that: past. Live in the present and learn to recognize opportunity when you see it. If you can train yourself to apply this principle ("do that which is necessary, even when it is unpleasant and uncomfortable"), there is really nothing you can't accomplish!