I had a friend I used to work with. We’ll call him Mark. I have to admit that in many ways, I was always jealous of Mark. He was brilliant. Everybody liked him. Everything seemed to come easily to him. Although he started a career in campaign politics after me, his career quickly outpaced mine. He got one great job after another and ended up starting his own consulting firm a few years ago. The firm was extremely successful, even advising candidates for top office in a number of countries. He was married to a beautiful wife. He seemed to have it all.
For awhile, Mark shared an apartment with one of my best friends. I remember hanging out at their apartment. He had just bought the new REM tape (we still listened to cassettes back then). I remember him playing it for me. After playing one song, I think it was Losing My Religion, I asked him to play the song again. It was so good. But he told me no, that the next song would be just as good. He was right, as he always was.
Despite the fact that Mark seemed so pulled together, he had a humility that made him impossible to dislike. I remember him calling me once when I got a new job. Despite the fact that he had jobs I could only dream of, he told me that I was his model of success. It was a great line, and I’m sure he said that to lots of people. But he had such sincerity about him that you had to believe him. Talking with him just made you feel good about yourself. It was another of his many gifts.
Mark was always positive. He never said anything bad about anyone. He never talked behind anyone’s back. In the highly competitive field of politics, he was an original.
Mark and I kind of lost touch over the last few years. The other day, I called my friend who shared the apartment with him. She had some bad news to tell me. It turned out that Mark had killed himself.
If I had to make a list of the people I would most expect to commit suicide, Mark would be the last person I’d put on that list. His death was quite literally incomprehensible to me. I still can’t wrap my mind around it.
The point of this story is that nobody has a perfect life. Mark seemed to have it all — great career, brilliance, friends, a beautiful wife — and he was such a great guy you didn’t begrudge him any of it. He was one of those people you rooted for, and when he won, you were happy for him. I would look at him and say “wow, I wish I were more like him.” But apparently, he wasn’t happy.
No, the truth is that the grass isn’t ever greener. As much as you may look at someone else and wish for their life, there is no other life suited for you than your own. The burdens we have are specifically our own, specifically chosen for us to learn the unique lessons we have to learn during our lifetime.
Learning is hard. To become a lawyer, after High School, I had to graduate from college, law school, pass the Bar exam, and once I was done with that, I needed to start to learn how to actually practice in the real world. There is a saying that they call it “practicing law” because someday, we might get good at it. The truth is that every day, I’m learning something new. And it is always hard work. In fact, it never gets easier.
Don’t get me wrong. As we gain more knowledge, we have more tools at our disposal to address the challenges we face. That is why we face challenges. Each time we overcome a challenge, we have learned new tools to help us over the next one. But the process of learning is never easy. It is always hard work.
The same is true with our lives. We are given challenges, one right after another, to learn the lessons we are put here on earth to learn. Those challenges are always difficult — because it’s hard to learn. But each time we overcome a challenge, we gain knowledge and experience that help us face the next one. The process itself never gets easier, but the tools we gain through the previous challenges do enable us to face progressively harder challenges.
It would be easier to learn nothing. To sit in a padded room and avoid all challenges. But that doesn’t work. The more we try to avoid learning our lessons, the more the opportunities to learn those lessons come to us.
It takes courage to face these challenges. By their very nature, challenges are difficult and scary. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t learn anything from them. But as we successfully face one of these challenges after another, we gain the knowledge we are here to learn: the knowledge of our connection to the almighty, in other words, faith. As our faith strengthens, it gives us the courage to face the next challenge, and the next. This isn’t to say that the challenges get easier, just that we develop the tools to face them with more confidence.
Ultimately, the lesson we are here to learn is faith. We are here to gain knowledge of our connection to the almighty. The challenges we face are our opportunities to learn those lessons. This is not to say we won’t experience setbacks and failures. I certainly have. But ultimately if each of these challenges move us toward the knowledge that is the goal of our lives, there is no such thing as a failure. The only way we won’t succeed in this quest is if we give up.