You can have success without struggle

I recently came across the quote “without struggle, success has no value.” And honestly, it made me want to cry - for the me of my 20s and 30s who was fully subscribed to this perspective and lost out on so much as a result. For all the people I’ve coached who have found life so much harder because of this mindset. And also for the original creator of this quote who actually said nothing of the sort.


Like so much of what ends up as “inspirational content,” from what I can see, this quote came from one Frederick Douglass who said it in 1857 about emancipation. He actually said “if there is no struggle there is no progress” and later clarified this with “who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.” This guy was talking about a movement for political emancipation, not reaching the goals you want in life.

Struggle leads to more struggle

There is something so inherently sad in the idea that we believe that we must struggle to be successful. And it’s just not the truth of the world if you really look around you. In fact, it almost indicates the opposite.

People who struggle often remain in struggle their whole lives, end up sick as a result, and find happiness or even contentedness hard. Before you even start to review how your definition of success might be trapping you in this, there’s a whole heap of self-sabotage in the idea that anything worth it must be hard-won. And when it comes to resilience, there's a lot of bad info out there - resilience is a supportive, positive force that enables you to thrive, not a process of gritting your teeth and struggling through.

One of the main areas that this often gets used is when it comes to sport. You could pick any athlete who has achieved some major titles and say “look, look at the struggle it took to achieve that.” Which is often the perception we have simply because actually, we would struggle to achieve that. In which case, my response would be,"really? Struggle? No, that was not a struggle. It was a long process of consistent work, clear focus, emotional regulation and the right support." Do you see what I mean?

I think we’ve glamorourised the idea of struggle over the years. And we’ve combined this with an inherent fear of our own worthiness - that it doesn’t exist if we don’t earn it. It’s an incredibly toxic mindset with which to approach your life because it essentially means that you will only ever be able to get the things you want in life if you suffer and struggle first. So, you’re essentially placing everything you desire at the end of an obstacle course, creating a huge and unnecessary gap between where you are now and where you want to be.

Why do we do this?

I think the simple truth is that we think this is how it has to be. If that’s the message you get from your parents - and the world around you - then why would your perspective be any different? And, of course, there are plenty of people in the world we live in who benefit from the majority having this view of what their path in life is meant to be.

Employees are much less likely to complain about longer hours or working a third of their lives if they’re conditioned to believe that life is meant to be a struggle before the good stuff comes. Voters are less likely to vote out politicians who put more effort into easing their own political success and lining their own pockets than making life better for the individual if there’s a sense that good things shouldn’t come easy anyway.

How do we stop?

It’s almost like it feels a little bit dangerous to start thinking about success without struggle. As if you’re just giving up on the idea of success entirely or abandoning your goals. But this isn’t about an easy life in the sense that you make no effort, it’s about an easier life in the sense that the efforts you make actually generate results. It’s the work smart not hard approach. It’s the mindset that means you enjoy your life and you’re not constantly waiting for the weekend, for retirement, for the moment when it all feels worth it. So how do you do it?

  1. Give yourself permission to be successful. Half the time, we’re not successful because deep down we don’t actually believe we deserve to be. If this is your baseline, it doesn’t matter how much effort (or struggle) you make, nothing is going to change. So, this is about understanding your core beliefs and what motivates you on a deep level so that an underlying lack of self-belief is not constantly driving you off the road every time you try to go for something in life.
  2. Imagine what that success looks like. There are many parts of us that respond to the use of visual imagery around where we want to be in life. Visualisation is a key component in making success happen. When you replay the mental cinema over and over again, you get used to the image of you in that successful place. Combine that with robust core beliefs and your conscious and subconscious can start working together to make it all happen.
  3. Stop telling yourself that it has to be hard. The internal narratives we hear every day have a huge influence over how we think, act, and behave. If you’re telling yourself something needs to be a struggle then it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why shouldn't it be easy to meet a partner you like, get that promotion, etc? The reality may be that those things require patience, persistence, or effort but you’re setting out on entirely the wrong path if you start with the perspective that it’s going to be a struggle before you've even tried.
  4. Start making smart choices. This means throwing away the ‘shoulds’ and doing the things that actually work - or might work - based on the knowledge you have of how you work. If you don’t have an understanding of how you work then it’s time to get one.
  5. Get very clear on what your idea of success really is. Half the time we’re walking around with a perception of success that is actually based on what others have influenced us into thinking. Does success actually look like money and recognition to you? Or does it look like being able to speak your truth, be truly yourself or not feel like you should always be spending more time with your kids/partner/dog?

My final tip for success without struggle is to start changing the words that you use to something that reflects reality and also allows you to actually step into your full potential now without having to go through that obstacle course first.

I’d suggest you swap “there’s no success without struggle” for “there’s no success without effort” if you need to have this kind of mantra at all. The reality is that sometimes success is actually effortless - and the more you subscribe to that mentality the more likely it is to be your reality - but there is often also some kind of positive action required. Effort is doable, struggle is a burden.

We make our lives so much harder when we subscribe to ideas of struggle where success is concerned. This simply isn’t what is required of you to live the life you want to have - and the sooner you shift out of that perspective, the less of a struggle everything will be.

If you'd like to discover how to use resilience coaching to create more ease and less struggle - and still achieve your goals - book a free discovery call with me.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Winchester, Hampshire, SO23
Written by Alex Pett
Winchester, Hampshire, SO23

Alex is an ICF trained and NLP certified coach focused on helping people to deepen their resources to adapt and bounce back - and go on to thrive. She helps clients build confidence and self-belief, recover from burnout, develop self-assurance, intuitive connection and move beyond limiting beliefs. Clients achieve tangible change in 6-9 sessions.

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