How does struggle make you stronger?

The saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Are you going through a rough patch right now? Do you feel as though you are being taxed to your reserves? What is it that keeps you hanging on? Is it a mental toughness? Spiritual sustanance? Physical conditioning? Perhaps it is a combination of the three? Perhaps it is something undefined, yet no less real.

You may have been referred to as strong by those around you. From whence does this strength originate? How do you expand upon it? How do you call upon it? How can you conjure it from the ether?

The answer? I don’t know. I just know that it’s there for those who call upon it – just like the Sword of Gryffindor.

My middle daughter has been a fan of the Harry Potter books from the moment they were first published. If you are, too, then you are familiar with the Sword of Gryffindor that Harry draws from the Sorting Hat while in the bowels of Hogwarts within the Chamber of Secrets in order to slay a serpent called a basilisk.

Two things are significant here: one – Harry is able to draw the sword because he has faith that something is there/within. Something in reserve. …

“We acquire the strength we have overcome.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

…And two (this comes into play later in the series), the sword, once impregnated with the venom of the creature it has slain, is henceforth impervious to that specific poison. The blade is stronger, having triumphed over and internalized this particular obstacle.

In a similar fashion, every time you are able to overcome a barrier, you now have it within you to triumph over similar trials that you encounter subsequently.

Strength is measured by what you can withstand – your capacity. Pliability, flexibility, adaptability. Each of these are components to withstanding various challenges that you will encounter as you move forward in your life. As you move forward, your challenges will increase in direct proportion to your capacity to withstand them.

“The more difficulties one has to encounter, within and without, the more significant and the higher in inspiration his life will be.” ~ Horace Bushnell

As an analogy, think of a great ocean liner, leaving the harbor. While within the friendly confines of the harbor, the waves met are easily sluiced through by the prow of the ship. However, as the craft navigates the open waters of the vast ocean, the swells increase, and become more challenging to overcome.

If you are facing experiences that strain your resources, congratulations. You are getting stronger. Take a moment, center yourself, and ask a few questions of yourself:

  • Where is my “pain?”
  • What is different about this experience from prior events in my life?
  • What are similarities with lessons I can recall?
  • How can I apply those lessons?
  • What are my available resources?
  • Who do I know that has navigated this challenge?

Reach out to those who have already developed the particular strength you are tasked with developing. Ask them about how they succeeded. Adapt what works for your situation. If it helps you to visualize the development of strength, I recommend envisioning something like weight training. When weight training, the growth or development of strength actually occurs between workouts, after the muscle tissue has been broken down by lifting.

After you have experienced a particularly turbulent period in your life, reflect about the “muscle building” opportunities hidden within.

  • What did you learn?
  • What did you overcome?
  • How did you grow?
  • How will you recognize this lesson in the future?

Periodically, review your life’s trajectory and see where you had intense periods of effort, possibly struggle. Give yourself credit for the progress you have made. This awareness is the key to building your strength and providing the wellspring from which your spirit can draw the next time you need to tap your reserves.

Always remember, you have it within yourself to achieve great and wonderful things. What are you facing today? How can you overcome it? What would you need to do so? How can you make it happen?


Molly Cantrell-Kraig is a woman with drive. Possessing an innate sense of purpose and a pragmatic, solution-based approach to empowering people, she fused these two traits in order to establish Women With Drive Foundation. Based upon its founder’s personal history, Women With Drive Foundation is a means through which Cantrell-Kraig may effect change on both a micro and macro level. By providing women with something as essential as personal transportation in order to transition them from poverty to prosperity, she, through Women With Drive Foundation, seeks to empower women to help them help themselves. Through this action, the individual applicant benefits, as does society as a whole. Follow Molly on twitter as @mckra1g or @WWDr1ve (Women With Drive)


  1. says

    Thanks for your piece which has helped bridge some troubled waters. For me it resonates with similar wisdom in Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet ….. looking up the book I read, ” the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?”. That links with your theme of “capacity”. Glad I came across your post.
    Renewed thanks, Chris

  2. says

    Such kind words…thank you, Chris. One of my favorite quotes comes from The Prophet: “Love is work made visible.” It’s amazing how much wisdom is contained within that slim volume. I appreciate the time you took to share your thoughts. My best, M. :)

  3. says

    I am one of those individuals that, during a family crisis, everyone turns to me. I am also the youngest of four. For reasons unknown I have always been able to keep my emotions in check when I am in a situation that emotions play the stronger hand. This is not to say I don’t feel and cry, I very much do, but only when I know everyone else is being taken care of. The funny part is that when the crisis isn’t emotional, I struggle with keeping control and showing the strength I would otherwise possess. I am working on it and like you said, I have gotten much better through using past struggles as my reference point. Great article. Thank You

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