Back to school season is in full swing, and with it comes common complaints such as “my son struggles with the transition from vacation to getting back on a school schedule,” or “I’m struggling with summer being over.”

When and how did the word “struggle” become so commonplace?

Yes, I understand our challenges are real – for example, some kids do have a tougher time with transitions, and I too feel sad when the summer season wraps up.  There is no reason to deny reality. But, really – a struggle?  Maybe the word struggle is being used too freely. By definition, it means:

“To contend with an adversary or opposing force”
“To advance with violent effort”

If you’ve read some of my other blog posts, you might share the belief that our language and self-talk effects our lives.  We can create different results by eliminating the word struggle from our vocabulary. Is it more a matter of perspective than it is semantics? There are women waking up in Africa this morning in need of water who will walk 8 hours through unsafe territory, being vulnerable to assault and disease. If they find water, they’ll carry 40 lb jerry cans on their back in hopes of returning to their families before dark. That’s a struggle.

The story of Imaculeee Ilibagiza who spent 91 days hiding in a cramped bathroom during the Rwanda genocide, emerging to find almost her entire extended family had been brutally murdered. That’s struggle.

Would we be comfortable or embarrassed if people in other parts of the world observed and listened to us for a day?  Would we expect them to relate to and empathize with our struggles?   We may be confusing struggle with privilege. If our biggest stressor is helping a second grader with his transition to third grade, that’s not struggle, it is privilege. The privilege of having the time, energy and resources to spend on a relatively minor issue – one that every educated human being on the planet has experienced.

Being stressed with too much to do before a family vacation and struggling to get everything done? That’s not struggle, it is privilege – having the time, energy and resources to take a family vacation.

I invite you to become an observer of whether you regularly use the word struggle and determine if it’s a good fit for you. If not, here are some tips for alternatives.

1. REPLACE
the word “struggle” with something more uplifting.  I was recently at a workshop in which we were encouraged to use the phrase “I’m on the verge of a massive breakthrough…” Or, what about “I’m learning to manage… “I’m getting better at…” “I’m finding new ways to…

2. ASK DIRECTLY FOR WHAT YOU NEED.
Have you gotten in the habit of saying you are struggling as a passive way to ask for help? Write down one thing that is challenging for you. What type of help do you need in order to overcome the obstacles and whom could you ask for help? Be active in asking for what you need and want. Don’t expect others to anticipate your needs.

3. PLAY WITH POSSIBILITIES.
Practice being more playful in your approach to problem solving – generate possibilities that energize you, rather than deplete you.  Ask yourself, if I weren’t struggling with this, what would be different in my life? Then, look forward as you take action to reach the end result rather than staying in the muck of the current situation.

4. LET IT GO.
Remember that your past does NOT equal your future.  Is this struggle something from your past that you are ready to let go of?  Then, let it go! If you’re not ready to let it go, what is the perceived payoff for continuing to tell yourself and others that you are stuck in the struggle? Sometimes there are unspoken benefits to being perceived as a victim.

5. FIND A ROLE MODEL.
Identify someone who appears to have mastered the very thing you are struggling with.  Ask them for ideas about how they achieved their success. Then, take massive action on their recommendations! Later, drop them a note to thank them and follow up on how it had a positive impact on your life.   Avoid continuing to talk about your issue if you are unwilling or un-ready to take action. Otherwise, you risk burning out your supports.

6. LEND A HAND.
Find someone whose scenario looks tougher than your own. Take the time to ask them if they’d like help and carve out the time to do so. Solving problems in which you are not directly involved, may jump start your creativity! Either way, you’ll feel better while being useful and a part of someone’s success.

Sylvia Theisen

The Culture Shifter™ Presenting the New Models to Help your Organization succeed in: Boosting Sales and Your Bottom Line, Easily Navigating Through Change, and Growing Leaders at Every Level