“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
So said the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, or at least, the saying has been attributed to him.
I think Nietzsche’s general drift was – any adversity which you manage to overcome makes you a stronger person in the long run. Put another way, the fact of living through adversity builds strength of character.
I wish I had read Nietzsche when I was 26, or even earlier. A good friend of mine studied Nietzsche for her philosophy degree, as I recall. I wish she had referred this buzzy little quote to me back then, when I was an undergraduate with her. It took me a long time to work it out for myself.
When I look back now, I see that many of the things which knocked me back and made me doubt myself were nothing more than life’s up and downs. Back then, if I failed or did badly in a test or exam, I thought my life was over. If, as regularly happened, the guy of my dreams barely registered my existence or, worse still, fancied one of my friends, I thought I would be on my own forever. When I didn’t get the job I really wanted or the role I coveted, I thought my efforts were worthless.
I wish I had known that getting through to the day after the adverse event, and then finding my equilibrium again, would, one day, make me a stronger person; that I would eventually learn to reason with and pacify myself. Of course, that process of managing myself is still very much a work in progress. What I would like to have known, though, back then, was that many years of picking yourself up and dusting yourself off do have an effect. That effect is to prepare you and give you strength to bear some of the harder knocks, when they come, as they do to all of us. Back when I was sweating some of the smaller stuff, albeit important to me at the time, I wish I’d known that I would have time to build defences and protection against some of life’s crueller vicissitudes. I would like to have known that.