Very Hard Things


“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.” ~ James Earl Jones

I recently lunched with three friends. We enjoyed a casual conversation that, at one point, meandered into various thoughts and experiences about courage. The things no one else is doing. The things that scare you. The things that define you and that make a difference between living a life of mediocrity or outrageous outcomes.

It got a little deeper. We generally agreed that hard things are the easiest to avoid; to pretend they don’t apply to you. The sense that ordinary people (like us) accomplish great things because they often do the hard things; the things that take courage. Being the demure one among we four, I decided to ask the others what the hardest thing was that they ever had to do. Truly, the most gut wrenching act or decision. And lunch took a very different turn.


I’m not going to go into what was disclosed. Each of us had a very personal story, just as you and others have. What I will share is that as I was driving back to my home office, I cried. Because I realized how fragile I have been and at times, still am. Especially when we must muster whatever courage we have and deal with life’s hardest things.

Not always do people get the lessons and character they ought to — out of the hard things in life. Some are not good learners in life’s school. Some grow bitter in disappointment and lose some of their innocence. Others have their vulnerability pierced when they endure trial.


There aren’t many ways to avoid very hard things. It’s part of thriving. Yet there are counter-balances to dealing with life’s biggest challenges; actions to redirect yourΒ energy and attention. If you seek or need to refocus, especially after having dealt with something very hard, here are three considerations:

  1. Find beauty in small moments. Don’t wait for the next big thing to happen — winning the lottery, kids, promotions — find peace in the small things that happen every day. Enjoy the pleasure of sharing something you enjoy with someone else; holding hands with your partner; a quiet cup of coffee in the morning. Noticing small pleasures on a daily basis can change the quality of your life.
  2. Start a family. I don’t mean have kids. Make the decision to have a family, which means giving of yourself fully to another person or several people. Risk being vulnerable by sharing your fears, quirks, and failures with someone else; you might find it makes you even stronger. Find someone or some people with whom you can share love, mutual respect, and trust.
  3. Practice self-compassion. People often find it easy to offer support to others at a cost of being less compassionate to themselves. Research shows that people who are kinder to themselves, who don’t get bogged down in personal imperfections and weaknesses, are more likely to be in better health.


90 thoughts on “Very Hard Things

  1. Your advice is wise, Eric. I absolutely agree with them. I’ll take them into account in the future. Thank you so much for sharing with us.
    I think the best thing a person can do is to offer his time, his love and his ajutorulul, other people and the environment, because this might bring satisfaction and fulfillment.
    Have a wonderful Sunday, Eric! πŸ™‚

    • Oh, I firmly agree with you you, Stefania… people who give of their time and love always contribute to greater happiness in other people. Wonderful new week greetings returned to you and thank you for your thoughtful comment!

  2. Wise words here. I do believe it’s those moments of exposing ourselves with people we trust and care about that lead to change. I say that as someone who found it almost impossible to be vulnerable in the past. Thanks for offering a moment of contemplation.

    • Thank you, Jay. Happy to generate a contemplative moment for you. You are so correct… when we open ourselves to others, in safe and trusting ways, amazing change and personal growth can happen. Glad you have come from where you once were re: being vulnerable.

    • There can often be reward in choosing to be proactive with decision-making and chocie. I’m warmed to read (well, actually sense) that you’ve progressed significantly on your healing journey. Bravo!

  3. Great post Eric. Inspiring as always. I still believe that being able to find beauty in small moments is one of the biggest blessings. Once that is lost, it becomes very hard to go through modern life with all the superfluous that gets thrown at us on a constant basis.

    • So true, Andre. Finding, being, and appreciating the beauty in small moments can be immensely gratifying. And your observation about “the superfluous” — the noise — the mitote (from Toltec Wisdom) far too frequently disallows us to see and be in those moments. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  4. Three worthwhile considerations. The most important moments in life are often the simplest. In order to live fully emotionally, we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable. In being compassionate to ourselves we are more able to show others the same compassion. And everything in life takes a bit of courage to experience.I enjoyed this post.

  5. We all know the saying …. stop and smell the roses. When was the last time you did that? I did it yesterday, and you know what? It was beautiful, amazing, wonderful and it made me feel alive!

  6. Great post and reminders Eric. I love your 3 suggestions. I might need to put a little more effort into ‘family’. And thanks for sharing your vulnerability too. To me, vulnerability has great intimacy and power to connect.

    • Thanks and you are welcome, Brad. Once you put a little more effort into “family” you may just find that it’s both easy to do and it may well strengthen your outlook and actions! Go forth and connect.

  7. I feel that in our weakness we are strong, as it takes a a certain kind of strength to allow ourselves to be weak. And definitely takes an amount of strength to share our weakest moments with others, and to make it through them. Thanks for sharing Eric, we all have our weak moments, though it takes someone strong to admit it freely. Good advice for self recovery too, I’m sure there are many out there who could use it.

    • Hey Nick, please pardon my delayed reply. Your comment found its way into the spam file and I don’t check it often. I’m unsure how or why, as none of your previous comments ended up there.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I posted several months ago about vulnerability which I believe gets to the essence of your comment. I concur with your perspectives and sense not only wisdom (for a young guy) but someone who is quite attuned to his strengths and feelings. Here’s to our weaknesses making us stronger!

  8. Great post Eric! The hardest things are when we feel most vulnerable. For some it might be jumping off a cliff, and for others, speaking their truth to their partner. Enjoying the moments, feeling connection with others and loving your own (imperfect) self is wonderful advice πŸ™‚
    Val x

  9. Your post really resonates with me Eric. My first nursing job was in oncology in the days when palliative care was a fledgling concept. Those years were a gift in many ways but shaping my life philosophy the biggest of all. I consciously strive to arrive at the end of each day content that if this were the last one it was well lived. Thank you for another thought provoking post. Excellent!

    • Thank you, Sue. Interestingly enough, when I was exploring volunteer opportunities a couple of years ago, I met with the Medical Director of Palliative Care Services at a large, University teaching hospital. I was genuinely interested in being in service in this arena but opted out as the (limiting) ‘training’ program for volunteers wasn’t what I was willing to undergo. I truly believe (now with clarity) that one of the reasons I did not go to med school was because I intuitively knew my vulnerability in dealing with loss (i.e., a very hard thing). I’m unsure all the compassion that any one individual can muster can hold them up and carry them through endless exposure to loss. Today, as with you, when my head hits the pillow after long days, I’m good with and grateful for the day and how, in often very small ways, I contributed.

  10. Excellent post Eric. We all have to face difficult times and do hard things we’d rather avoid. Your advice is great for both surviving such times and rebounding afterwards.

    • Thank you, Tiny. It’s not as if I am throwing stuff at the wall and watching to see what sticks. Yet sometimes, I simply let the thoughts flow and what ends up in a post, fortunately, resonates with some. It’s encouraging to read that this advice serves more than one constituency. Sometimes I don’t even see what the words yield.

      Always appreciate your thoughtful feedback.

  11. Your post couldn’t have been more well timed. I am facing a daunting dilemma whether to have my companion animal/best buddy operated on for a recurrence of cancer and subsequent chemo or live our lives together as a family, as we have for the past 7 years (Sam is 14). Very helpful post. Thanks.xoxo

    • Thoughts and prayers of strength and encouragement your way, Dale. Our animal companions are incredibly valuable to we humans. Thanks for sharing your dilemma here. I know others thoughts will be with you too.

    • Little, little steps matter… and move people forward. This work/personal development, as we know, isn’t an overnight sensation. Patience, practice and a healthy dose of selfishness, when blended, make for amazing and deserved outcomes.

  12. As we get older, it seems that there are more hard things that we need to do, more courage that must be brought out. And I’ve found that enjoying the simple beauty of the everyday and sharing that through my photography has been my saving grace.

    • How fortunate you are, Angeline, to find beauty and serenity in your photography. I think that when age, wisdom, life experience and (to your comment) courage are brought to bear, one has what they need to confront the hard things — even if they don’t feel at the time, so blessed and capable.

  13. Hi Eric,
    I came across your name on Army of Angel’s blog, and discovering you are a fellow INFJ, I couldn’t resist taking a look at your blog. Your insights are very real and very moving and I look forward to reading more.

  14. It seems like all the ways to avoid hard things are unhealthy (eating, drinking, smoking, drugs, etc.) and eventually lead to harder things. I love your suggestions, especially self-compassion. It’s funny how we often have to be reminded to practice that.

    • Because they are easy to lapse into, right, Robin? And matters simply spiral downward from there. As an alternate, intentional exercise (or practice as you reference) people can (with self-awareness) find what skills, personal gifts and techniques best equip them to prepare for and deal with very hard things. Some concerted focus and recognition of what we are capable of being and doing can surprise any of us! And then comes the practice. πŸ™‚

  15. Always nice to hear your wise words, Eric. I, myself, am an embracer to life’s simple pleasures. But I’m also hard headed. I need find balance between both. I don’t really have that really big trials … I mean I had big ones. Just not as big if I compare it to other people. But I am in those times, I’m often just numb. I find myself emotionless. It’s good and bad at same time.
    Knowing your own limit, seeking out what’s in you, and assesing where your current status, all play a part in venturing in courageous missions.

    • I hear, agree with, and appreciate what you share here, Rommel.

      One aspect that I’d like to invite you (and anyone else) to reconsider is your reference to “knowing your own limits…” Why not instead, as you comment, seek out what’s in you, believe in your unlimited potential and couple those with courage — to face any unimaginable challenge? I think, even with your admitted hard headedness πŸ™‚ that you could bring to bear strength you didn’t even believe you had, if you put no limits on how you might face big trials.

      I sense you have a warrior spirit to you, which is a gift. If this is so, how do you use that when a serious need arises?

  16. Good stuff, my friend. Appreciate your candor here. I think mine was probably earlier this year. Looking back on it, I am thankful for the direction I chose to take. I might not have handled it in the best way, but it was the best decision for me and my family, and I have been blessed richly for it since then. Have a good day, Eric.

    • This is off-topic but do you know that I’m still thinking about burritos. πŸ™‚

      To your challenging experience, maybe how one chooses to handle the issue is (even retrospectively) less important and what really matters is the fact that you seriously considered, made a conscious choice, and took action. Many cannot or will not step into a space with an unclear outcome for lack of courage. You did and can now acknowledge you were richly blessed for doing so. Kudos, Brian!

      • Haha, the burritos! Delicious. Had one yesterday actually. Too good to pass up!

        And thanks for your reply and encouragement. It’s something I’ve struggled with at certain moments (the difficult decision, not the burrito!) but agree with you in how to look at it. All is as it should be right now. Have a good one, my friend.

  17. I have nothing of substance to add to all of the wonderful comments above but somehow couldn’t bring myself to just click “like” and move on. The James Earl Jones quote really hits the nail on the head, doesn’t it?

    • Everything you choose to say has substance, Barbara. I am not one of those who gets concerned if people simply “like” a post to acknowledge it. πŸ™‚ And yes, the Jones quote immediately made it into my top ten favorite quotes list. So powerful.

  18. This was meaningful to me, since I have fears. I think that I have a lot to live for, be happy about but when it comes down to it, I am fragile, too. This was so heart-warming, your sharing how your emotions were and how you wept. Eric, I admire your openness, sharing this will help others. Thank you for this.

    • I don’t let my own fragility limit me, Robin. One easy thing to do is simply acknowledge and co-exist with it. It’s not defining, it just happens to be part of some people’s makeup. Many fear being vulnerable when in a lot of cases, exercising one’s vulnerability strengthens them and others! So just go out and be all that you have to live for.

  19. It’s so interesting to read this now, Eric, since earlier today a friend told me in great detail that she has chosen to limit, if not entirely squelch, the need the do hard things! We had a lengthy conversation about this as I couldn’t seem to understand how one would even do that! Life is such that we all have days, weeks, or months that challenge us to get through very hard times. I like the list you’ve provided. Practicing self-compassion resonates with me as something to really seriously think about. As always, this is very thought provoking, Eric. Thank you!

    • I always appreciate your perspectives, Debra, and how you weave personal experiences into your comments and what you share in your enjoyable blog. As members of humanity we are a diverse lunch. Some people will step into the batter’s box ready to swing; some to hit it out of the park. Others will lean the way of your friend. As we (and many others) know, doing the hard things is what yields growth, confidence and desired outcomes. I’m glad that the practicing self-compassion action resonates with you. Have fun playing with it. πŸ™‚

  20. Nice post. Expanding a bit on the quote about having words in your heart that you can’t utter, one of the ways I enjoy expressing such words or thoughts is through poetry writing. It allows me to convey thoughts in a somewhat abstract, but (hopefully) hard hitting, way.

    • I am always encouraged, Mary, when I learn about people who know and exercise the outlets through which they can be with their difficult/challenging thoughts. Abstract or otherwise, if it works for you, then purpose is served. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful comment.

      • I just realized that my comment might be confusing. I responded to yours, Alex, as though you had just read another of my posts about Eddie Rickenacker. Sorry to have confused. I ought to have picked up on your “courage” reference and replied accordingly. Either way, I appreciate your reading and adding to the online thought exchange.

  21. Sometimes computers are hard for me. The first time I tried to re-blog this on “Anything is possible” using my I phone, lots and lots of words from other posts jump in there uninvited, so I deleted it and will try again on the lap top, because I really like your three suggestions. I hope that didn’t mess up anything here on your end. Glad computers are just hard and not very hard.

    • Jo-Anne, thank you for your thoughtful reblog. This post was an important message for me to share. Absolutely nothing was “messed up” at this end. πŸ™‚ I’m sorry you encountered some techno-gremlins in the process. Computers (in fact, a lot of technology) can be challenging for many of us.

  22. Pingback: Re-blogging about Very Hard Things | Anything is Possible!

  23. What a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing. The most difficult thing that I have ever had to overcome was the death of my beautiful daughter. After a perfectly healthy pregnancy, I suffered a placental abruption. My daughter passed away the day after she was born. Finding beauty and joy in small moments was very difficult for the first few weeks, but slowly it allowed me to move forward and treasure the time that I had with her.

    • Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your heartbreaking experience. I visited your blog and read Isabelle’s story. I find myself blessed, whereas so many other people are dealt enormous personal loss in their lives, I have yet to experience the loss of a loved one (other than grandparents). I wish I had words to share that might, in some small way, help with your mourning and to restore your strength. But I don’t. I will acknowledge what you both know and that is that she was a beautiful angel and for an unknown reason, God thought it best to bring her back home. I sense you both have had your faith tested and subsequently grounded as a result of having to release Isabelle to her Creator. He is a good God, regardless of what we may thing in times of trial. I just realized that a post I wrote on loss was published just one month after Isabelle physically left the two of you. I’m linking it below as it is the only thing I can offer. It doesn’t answer any questions; it simply acknowledges how dealing with loss is individually unique. I’ll pray for you, Matt, and Isabelle tonight.

  24. Reblogged this on theempathyqueen and commented:
    Eric Tonningsen stirs the mind and spirit by connecting it to intellect and emotion. Also, I appreciate the empathy he creates for his readers and friends. Honest, thoughtful and endeavoring to improve others’ situations, it is no wonder that I find his words inspiring and empathetic.

    • eq, I sense we are cut from similar cloth. You speak a language and post about what really matters, who we are or ought to be at our core, and the true importance of being empathetic – consistently. I value and appreciate what I sense are these admirable qualities in you.

      I am humbled that you deem this post worthy of sharing with others who also speak your language and understandably, follow your blog. Thank you for your thoughtful reblog.

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