May 2016. At 21, I felt invincible. With college graduation just one year away, I set my sights on the future: graduate school, travel, adventure, success. If I could just dig in and work my hardest for the next twelve months, the world would be my oyster. With good grades and a stable plan, I could conquer anything.
August 2016. Reality abruptly rid me of those conceptions. I began to realize what it actually means to be a conqueror. It’s getting back up when even your own mind tells you to stay down. It’s relighting that little spark of hope in your soul each time it’s blown out. It’s giving your reflection a pep talk in the bathroom mirror when you’ve finally clawed your way out of bed. It’s crawling until you can walk, then falling and learning to walk all over again (sometimes, quite literally). Chronic illness altered my entire worldview, teaching me an invaluable lesson that my previous 21 years hadn’t: It’s not a matter of if life will knock us down – it’s when, and maybe, how many times?
When the inevitable falls happen, we have a choice to make. Do we merely survive, or do we choose to thrive? There is no fundamental, mortal difference between people who thrive and people who survive, no magic potion or genetic anomaly which ensures success. The only difference is their decision to choose happiness in the face of adversity. People who thrive decide to take reality as it is and make the most of it. They make peace with misfortune and work around it as a natural function of life, accommodating hardship like the weather or an old friend. Where one person sees an insurmountable challenge, another finds a new goal to conquer with gusto. One person decides to scrape by, the other looks for a lesson in every failure. It really is as simple as that: thriving is just a matter of choice. We can allow tragedy to suffocate us, or we can use it to fuel our fire. We’re all free to choose either outcome, but I prefer the latter.
This does not mean I instantly meet every struggle, every fall, every setback with a great attitude. My attitude is directly related to the struggle itself: the larger the fall, the more mental ground I have to make up. However, my overarching philosophy to choose happiness makes bouncing back from that fall much easier. Even if you immediately fall on your face, that one step took you farther than you had been before and galvanized you for the next (because there willbe a next). When success is a possibility, it’s always worth taking the risk of that first step. Deciding to choose happiness in the face of any challenge means that regardless of the outcome, taking a step will help you grow. The moment you decide to stop protecting yourself from failure is the moment you begin to thrive.
Two years later, I’m still the same person. The only difference is that I met higher stakes with higher expectations. Even though it was the harder road, I decided to find happiness in every aching, arduous step. I’m still a bit anxious, quite a bit loud, and more than a bit determined. Struggle can be a beginning rather than an end – the choice is yours.