Struggle is Not a Zero-Sum Game

Erin Lynch
3 min readFeb 25, 2023

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Opportunities for failure lurk everywhere. Make a plan.

I’ve been thinking this week about struggle — specifically when we take the time to set a goal or a series of goals and then encounter roadblocks that keep us from getting done what we planned.

“You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle…” ~ Brené Brown

It can be frustrating to take the time to make a plan, mentally prepare yourself to execute on it, and then encounter failure. If we are, as Brené Brown says, “wired for struggle”, we should probably have the skills to mitigate the opportunities that lead to failure, and the ability to adapt — forming a plan to quickly get back on track.

The Mental Art of Binary Thinking

Last week I was combating a major migraine, an ongoing “struggle” I’ve had since I was a child. Two days of pain management kept me from work, the gym, reading, writing, and pretty much everything else I currently have goals set for. The only holdout was my diet. And as I sat there on the second day, wallowing in my pain, contemplating all I was not going to accomplish, I was struck by how great a cheeseburger (or perhaps two?) would be and how it would most definitely take those thoughts away…I tend to be an emotional eater.

As I sat in the driveway waiting for the car to warm up so I could go get my greasy fix, I was struck by a question:

Do I have to fail at everything this week?

I tend to think of things in a binary fashion. It’s one of the wonderful gifts my neurodivergent mind has given me. So, when I fail in one area, I can tend to drag that failure across most other areas. It can be maddening and makes real progress slow to a crawl.

What I was reminded of in that moment, though, is that facing struggles does not need to be a zero-sum game resulting in complete failure. Just because I’m forced to temporarily lose progress in one area does not mean I have to lose progress across all the things I’m working on. It’s a choice. It’s my choice.

This is what took me down this line of thinking.

Struggle Inc.

As creative professionals, we’re constantly reaching out for progress. With the demands of the current workplace, we have to. The nature of being a creative pro is one of constant change. Our skills cannot stagnate. They have to evolve. There is simply no room for a “set it and forget it” mentality.

To struggle is part and parcel of the work we do. We have a steep learning curve to acquire new skills, the pressure to be “creative on demand”, the responsibility to help our clients reach their goals, the personal obligation to do things our own way, and the challenge of making a living in a shrinking marketplace.

Learning to accept struggles, striving to control points of failure, and mastering our ability to rebound means we can make more consistent progress in a shorter period of time, which is essential. Adaptability is a core skill to develop as a creative pro.

When we’re adaptable, we deal in flexibility. That means the struggles we face in our daily lives don’t have to bring everything to a halt, or worse, bring it down like a house of cards. Ultimately, adaptability and flexibility are skills, and those skills are what make creative careers instead of creative pit stops.

This article was originally published as a free post in my newsletter, Past Tense, a weekly newsletter about being a designer, educator, entrepreneur, creative professional, and neurodivergent human.

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Erin Lynch

Designer, writer, pixel articulator, educator, and neurodivergent human. Subscribe to my newsletter, Past Tense, at erinlynch.substack.com