Being Human is Hard

People tell me things.

It is one of the great treasures of my life.

When I meet strangers who’ve read my writing, they often feel safe to share what they may not be able to tell anyone else—sometimes almost immediately.

Elsa was one of those people.

A couple of months ago we met following a speaking event at a local church, and after some brief and unassuming small talk, her voice quivered as she began to tell me about a devastating season in her life: loss and grief and helplessness of a kind I’ll never comprehend—or at least hope I won’t.

Her story leveled me.

I did the best I could to let her know that she was seen and heard, and I tried to encourage her as I was able in those few moments, surrounded by hundreds of people who had no idea of the gravity of our conversation or the scalding pain and disorienting panic she was in.

As our time was coming to a close, Elsa asked for a hug and I gladly obliged. She wiped away the tears that had pooled in her eyes and had begun spilling onto her cheeks, smiled bravely and said, “Being human is hard.”

And she walked away.

Elsa is right: being human is hard.

We weren’t prepared for it.

None of us asked to be here, and we didn’t have any choice about when and where we arrived, the kind of people who would welcome and shape us, or in most of what happened for the first two decades of our lives.

And even after that, we never really have control over very much, despite sometimes imagining that we do.

We come pre-wired for all sorts of fears and worries and phobias, we’re saddled with individual quirks and idiosyncrasies that so easily derail our progress, and we have persistent voices in our heads of condemnation and criticism that can be impossible to turn off.

And when we step out of our heads and into the world, we expose ourselves to unthinkable suffering there too.

People we let close to us sometimes betray us and do us harm.
Strangers purposefully and unintentionally do us damage.
We lose those we love in brutal, senseless, excruciating ways.
Despite our best plans and preparations and intentions, things sometimes fall apart.
We wrestle continually with unanswerable questions about the hows and whys of our existence.

As a result most of us feel like perpetual failures here; like we never quite get a handle on this life thing—as though we will never get our shit sufficiently together no matter how breathlessly we try.

Friend, give yourself a break.

This is your first time being here, being a human.
You are in the middle of a day you’ve never been to, in a life you’ve never lived—which means the learning curve every morning is massive.
Show yourself some grace for the mistakes you make, the times you drop the ball, and for the wounds that never seem to heal. There isn’t anything you can do, other than the best that you can do—and that’s good enough.

It is an unprecedented act of courage simply to wake up in the morning and to brave the difficulties of the day, to fight like hell to get it right, and to get up the next morning and commit to doing it all over again. That’s where the victory is.

Being a person of compassion while surrounded by so much cruelty, loving relentlessly in the face of so much hatred, and choosing to care when apathy would be the less invasive path—these are superhuman endeavors that you’ve chosen, so be gentle with yourself.

This life is not for the faint of heart.
There isn’t much about it that is easy.
Congratulations on getting up and living.

Yes, being human is hard—but you are being it beautifully.

Originally Published on

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