When I was taking the LSAT and other high-stakes standardized tests, I often reminded myself of something when I was stressed: if a question is hard for me, it’s probably hard for almost everyone else.
A friend told me this advice and he got a really high score, so I also internalized the fact that I wasn’t just stupid when I didn’t understand something. I wasn’t just an anomaly — my frustration and challenges were 100% normal.
Acknowledging this normality didn’t mean I gave up on a question. It meant not second-guessing or doubting myself, and validating whatever I felt in the moment.
“If it’s hard for you, it’s probably hard for everyone else” is objectively not true advice. Some people find something you find difficult easy. I find it difficult to maintain a clean house, while my fiancee finds it a lot easier.
However, I also validate my emotions and frustrations as a runner. Whenever I am going through a difficult part of a marathon, like running up a huge hill, I tell myself “everyone probably feels the same way” and stop freaking out about having a hard time. Then I would look at the runners around me and see them straining and grimacing just as much, if not more than I did.
The fact is we’re all human beings at the end of the day. We’re social creatures who need to feel like we fit in, or at least like we’re not the only ones going through a certain struggle or ordeal. To varying degrees, we’re all just normal people, and we’re probably not so special we’re the worst in the world at whatever we’re doing.
It’s hard to feel isolated
A lot of the time, it’s not suffering that’s the most difficult thing. Everyone suffers — that’s a basic part of life. People do terrible things to others, and many natural misfortunes happen that nothing can really explain.
But the only thing worse than suffering is suffering alone.
According to Dhruv Khullar at the New York Times, the percentage of Americans who say they’re lonely and isolated doubled from the 1980s to 2013. This is older data, but recently, loneliness must really be on the rise in light of the pandemic.
Regardless, social isolation is incredibly difficult, leading to an increased risk of heart disease, disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, and higher stress.
But sometimes, feeling like you’re the only one struggling through something can be more than just socially isolating. It can be existentially isolating.
This is something I go through as a teacher — I often feel like I’m the only person who struggles to manage a classroom sometimes, the only person who feels like he had a hard day.
In reality, a lot of people have hard days. A lot of people struggle to manage a classroom. A lot of teachers feel like they don’t do the best job of behavior management or have the best lesson on a given day.
No matter how you feel, a lot of people feel the same way
The fact is no one person is really that special, or at least not that different from another human being. Don’t get me wrong — everyone has their unique characteristics, but human beings all have the same feelings and have similar experiences a lot of the time.
It’s not a reminder that’s going to change the world or change your situation, but it’s more of a mental reframing.
If something is difficult or challenging for you, it’s probably hard for almost anyone else. No one knows your situation or circumstances. If someone else was in your shoes, they probably wouldn’t do any better than you’re doing.
Anyone in your situation would feel the same way, if not worse than how you feel. In fact, a reminder that something is probably difficult for a lot of people is not just validation, but motivation.
It’s motivation to not give up because, well, a lot of other people are going through something. It’s motivation to move on to something else that might be a better use of your energy and bandwidth. Lastly, it’s motivation not to be so hard on yourself, because you’re a normal human being going through normal human challenges.
Remember that the next time you feel like you’re the only one suffering.
This post was previously published on The Partnered Pen.
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