“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph,” Thomas Paine wrote during the dark days of the American Revolution. “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: 'tis dearness only that gives everything its value." Paine knew that without struggle there is no real sense of accomplishment. Merriam-Webster defines accomplishment as a special skill or ability acquired by training or practice. They say practice makes perfect, but how many of us have struggled through the thousands of hours of practice needed to achieve perfection?
Recently, I read a book about storytelling and struggle by a man well on his way to becoming a billionaire: Hollywood producer Peter Guber. In his book, Tell To Win, he tells a story about one of the most heroic characters he's ever encountered -- a young boy in his neighborhood who would watch from his window every day as Peter and his friends rode their bicycles up and down the block. The boy couldn’t walk, could hardly speak and couldn’t go to school because of a terrible muscle-wasting disease. Then one day the boy’s father carried him outside and put him on a bicycle with six training wheels, front and back. Then the father went inside.
The kid started to pedal and in a minute the bike tipped over. I could see the father in his window watching. So could the boy. His dad watched him lying there and did nothing. Finally the boy pulled himself up. Then he went about three feet and again the father just stood there watching. For weeks that kid kept trying and falling, and the father didn’t lift a finger. I complained to my mother but she told me to mind my own business. I couldn’t. The drama was too seductive. Then one Saturday morning the boy crashed off the curb. I had to go down. But when I reached the sidewalk, the kid waved me off. Then his father tapped on the window glass and shook his finger at me to go away. Convinced he must be some kind of monster, I left the boy trying to pull himself up and ran back home.
Then a couple of days later the kid was out there again. Over he went; up he went. Again.
But then suddenly he was rolling! He made it about sixty feet… then he turned around. And he rode all the way back without falling! I looked up and there was the father grinning down at his son. I looked back at the boy and he was beaming at his father. Then they both started laughing and waving like crazy. And I started to cry.
Finally I got it! They both knew the boy needed to face the challenge and struggle through it on his own. He needed to be his own agent of change, to be active in his own rescue. If his father did it for him, the boy wouldn’t feel like a hero.
We constantly overcome obstacles in our own lives. Small ones compared to this boy, without a doubt. But when we do accomplish something, we become heroes in our own lives for a few brief moments. There's nothing to compare to the feeling (however subtle that feeling may be) because we know that nothing worthwhile comes without a struggle.
That's what stories are all about.