Learning from Struggle

Jeff - Cambridge, Massachusetts
Entered on March 14, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50
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Learning from Struggle

I believe in struggle. I believe in struggle because it can be a great teacher. I believe in struggle because it can lead us to break free from those forces that keep us down and silent.

At an earlier time in my life however, I didn’t hold this belief. I believed struggle served no purpose other than to make people’s lives harder. After all, I felt I knew enough about struggle in life. Being the child of Haitian immigrants in the United States, I had seen my parents do back-breaking jobs so my siblings and I could get a better education. As their son, I had enough difficulty mastering English. Consequently, as a high school student, though there were many times I wanted to speak, I remained quiet. When I reached college, I thought I had made it. I thought life would be easier; I thought I had reached the promised land! But within a few months of arriving on campus, nothing it seems was coming easily to me—not the classes I was taking—and certainly not the relationships I was making. Therefore, when a school official I admired invited me into his office and asked me how I was doing, I took the initiative of asking him a question that had been weighing on my mind. “How long must we struggle?” I proceeded to tell him that I was tired of struggle, and that it must end.” I can only recall from that meeting this tiny smile on his face.

As unsatisfactory as his smile was, my life soon changed. By my second year in college I had been accepted in a study abroad program in Switzerland. There I could easily travel to many countries. However, when it came time to travel with someone, there was no one! Forlorn, I ventured to North Africa by myself. In Tunisia, I made the discovery of a people and culture I knew nothing of. I felt both frightened and exhilarated being alone. From this point on I would take many more trips to foreign destinations on my own. Little by little I grew to realize my struggle with loneliness or my brother’s mental illness could not prevent me from doing the things I wanted to do and enjoy; in fact to a large measure, it emboldened me, pushing me to break new grounds that I could never before have imagined. Later, I would go on to graduate school at Harvard, and become ironically enough an English teacher, seeking to give voice to students.

As my life has continued, so have my struggles. I have faced unemployment; sickness, even my father’s death. I have come to learn that struggle is an intrinsic part of life, which has greatly strengthened my character. So, as difficult of a lesson as struggle has been in my life, it has also spurt me on and taught me to appreciate life more.

Therefore, I believe in struggle.