Writers are constantly instructed to “throw rocks at the main characters to make them suffer.” That means we provide readers with plenty of tension and conflict. We give our characters struggles, obstacles to overcome, and battles with others in order to help them grow. It’s the same in life. Conflict creates resilience.

But in February when I broke my wrist, I only saw pain and struggle. I couldn’t imagine anything positive coming from it. Now, having regained most of my strength and range of motion without needing surgery, I can see everything I’ve learned. Rehab exercises. Isometrics. Alternative movements that don’t require grip. And how long it takes someone my age, who is religious about her exercise program, to recover. The biggest lesson, however, is this: if I can face THAT, I can face anything.

A selfie I took on 2/22/22. Broken bones disrupt every routine. Conflict creates resilience. Whenever you struggle, look for the positives. How will this battle help you grow?
A selfie I took on 2/22/22. Broken bones disrupt every routine. Conflict creates resilience. Whenever you struggle, look for the positives. How will this battle help you grow?

The Counselor

As an INFJ from the Myers Briggs Inventory, I am what they call “a counselor,” part of the rarest 2% of the general population, including only 2% of women. Brene Brown, whose copious materials on shame, guilt, and vulnerability speak volumes, happens to be an INFJ. So is cartoonist Debbie Tung, author of Everything is OK and Quiet Girl in a Noisy World. I’m relieved I’m not the only one!

I love to nurture and help people grow through my coaching company. But I also prefer avoiding conflict. That makes for some very tense internal struggles because change is almost always messy.

I've used this image before; can we maintain an attitude of gratitude and look for the GROWTH that comes from conflict and tension?
Can we maintain an attitude of gratitude and look for the GROWTH that comes from conflict and tension?

In Texas a few weeks ago, my husband and I talked about this dichotomy. I could feel myself squirming during his questioning. I prefer to listen. My tendency is to withdraw if I am unable to explain my side of things well, or if I feel like my values are being examined and come up lacking. On our drive to Corpus Christi, all I could do was sit calmly, take deep breaths, and try to contribute to the conversation without feeling attacked.

Conflict Creates Resilience; Life Without Is Not Living

Eventually, I understood what my husband was trying to say: we need conflict in order to grow. Those moments that stand out most in my mind — my wedding, my daughter’s birth, graduating from college, and becoming a climb leader — all took courage, struggle, and effort. We don’t accomplish meaningful things overnight. Also, we don’t remember moments of smooth sailing for very long. Instead, we recall the mistakes, the failures, and the big moments of tension right before we change.

Tension within ourselves provides conflict as long as the end result includes taking action. Not withdrawing, burying your head in the sand, or diving into addictive avoidance behaviors, but positive forward steps. Struggle provides the stimulus for us to take action. Without it, we can’t grow.

Can we use conflict in a positive way to truly listen to others rather than simply fighting for fighting's sake?
Can we use conflict in a positive way to truly listen to others rather than simply fighting for fighting’s sake?

Keep in mind that by “conflict” I don’t mean picking fights, being belligerent, protesting big issues, or seeking confrontation. Yes, those are examples of conflict, but to me, it feels like so much conflict these days is fighting just to fight. Instead, we could benefit from listening to opposing points of view with the goal of truly understanding others. Being open to why people feel or do what they feel or do. And understanding why we feel a need to avoid conflict.

Learned Behavior

When our daughter mentioned struggles she was having with her roommate, part of me wanted to rush in with advice. To help her avoid the pain that comes from conflict. I realized I’d been doing that for most of her life.

As hard as it is for me, it’s time to let her struggle so she can come through the other side with new coping skills. With the knowledge that she is resilient enough to figure things out for herself instead of relying on her parents. That means she may have to suffer massive discomfort, mistakes, and pain in order to change. That’s a tremendously hard lesson. But if we keep in mind the learning opportunity, it softens the pain.

This year our daughter entered a unique "Fishing Grizzly Bear" Lego sculpture at the Washington State Fair. It took five years of trying, but this year she became the Grand Master Champion.
This year our daughter entered a unique “Fishing Grizzly Bear” Lego sculpture at the Washington State Fair. It took five years of trying, but this year she became the Grand Master Champion.

Fail Big

One of my favorite motivational videos is by Denzel Washington. In this clip, he speaks to a group of students graduating from the University of Pennsylvania. His key takeaway moments are to FAIL BIG, FALL FORWARD, and KEEP TRYING.

He reminds students that Thomas Edison conducted many, many failed experiments. It only took one success, the light bulb. What sort of life are we living if we never try anything new? If we do the same thing, day in and day out, “playing it safe”?

Conflict Creates Resilience in Writing and in Life
Winnie the Pooh constantly strives to get his favorite snack from the “hunny” jar. My husband and I had fun building this December creation, despite less-than-optimal conditions and without our daughter, who chose not to join us.

Fall Forward

Rather than “having something to fall back on,” he suggests falling forward, flat on our faces, and often, so we can see where we’re headed. He mentions that each student in the audience has the talent to succeed; but who among us has enough guts to fail? “We don’t plan to fail, we fail to plan.” What does your plan for 2023 hold?

When you think about what you want more than anything else — whether that’s an intimate relationship, a new job, a toned body, a dream vacation, or a successful climb — what is holding you back? What stands in your way? Can you take the first bold, courageous step toward it today? What struggles do you have to face to get it?

Mushrooms dusted with early December snowfall.
Mushrooms dusted with early December snowfall.

Keep Trying

Washington’s last point in the video is to keep trying. Says Otto Kroeger, in Type Talk at Work, “INFJs’ nonstop search for learning, self-growth, and development—and wishing the same for everyone else—makes them very reassuring to others and people worth emulating.” My sincere wish for readers facing struggle is that if at first, you don’t succeed, find something else to try. As long as you are alive, you will continue to face struggle. But you also have tons of things left to try in this lifetime.

Pull out that wish list you have tucked in a drawer somewhere. Use the tools from within this blog to create SMART goals, take five-minute actions, and figure out what today’s one thing will be. Draw from the resilience of others who have found a way through. Conflict creates resilience. See what new lesson you can get from the difficult struggles ahead. Never give up.

Tension and conflict exist in real life just as in fiction. When you get a clenched stomach, pumping heart, and racing mind, take three deep breaths to get your rational brain to stay online. Don't "flip" and go lizard-brain (i.e. fight of flight).
When you get a clenched jaw, butterflies in your stomach, a pumping heart, and racing thoughts take three deep breaths. Don’t “flip” and go lizard-brain (i.e. fight or flight). Take the next step. Trust that you will get through. You got this.

As always, if you are facing some sort of conflict and you need a sounding board, I’m here to help. Post your issue in the comments or send me a personal message. Please do not struggle alone!

Published by Courtenay Schurman

Co-author of The Outdoor Athlete (2009) and Train to Climb Mt. Rainier or Any High Peak DVD (2002), author of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills/conditioning chapter 4 (3 editions), and Peak Performance column for the Mountaineers Mag (2014-present). Member of PNWA, SCBWI, EPIC. Served on the steering committee for WOTS (2019-present). Completed UW Certificate program for Children's Literature and Memoir. Co-owner of Body Results, Inc. in Seattle. Climb leader with Seattle Mountaineers for over 15 years. Volunteer at Woodland Park Zoo since 2014.

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6 Comments

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  1. An excellent post, Court! Lots of substance. I especially like the quote about waves. Choices are key, including what we choose to think about. Well done.

  2. Because I am always curious and concerned (obsessed would not be an overstatement) about “who I am”, I used the link you provided to get my four-letters, but totally acceptable 😊, personality type acronym. And Oh surprise! I ended up with INFJ as well. This may explain why so much of what you discuss in your latest post feels really, and at times painfully, familiar. One key difference, though, is that you are much further along than I in turning conflicts into new opportunities for growth. Right from the start: “I love to … help people… I also prefer avoiding conflict. That makes for some very tense internal struggles because change is almost always messy.”; this rings all sort of Jingle Bells (t’is the season after all). If I think in a knee-jerk fashion, it sometimes feel like my life is just an endless string of conflicts with brief interludes of peace and joy. Why can’t we all friendly work together to get to a better place for all? Hmmm… utopia anyone? . “My tendency is to withdraw if I am unable to explain my side of things well”? You bet! But, like you explain, I very strongly believe (know for a fact?) that life takes wonderful new hues and textures when I do find my way through a few conflicts: I grow into a “more perfect union”… of skills, perspectives, and experiences. And then you state “Conflict Creates Resilience; Life Without Is Not Living”. That IS one of my core beliefs and also my greatest source of conflict (!) albeit a completely internal one between my own “voices”: my “rational voice” is very clear and forceful about it being a fundamental truth and something I must do a good job at; my “worrier voice”, while seemingly less assertive, keeps reminding me of “how bad” failing feels and “how unlikely” my chances of success are in certain areas of my life. I do feel, however, that I am no longer giving up or finding endless distractions (“burying your head in the sand” you noted) when thinking about my most cherished goals; since I no longer have a very long life in front of me, I have decided to PICK MY FIGHTS (conflicts) and have been satisfyingly successful about those; not all conflicts feel worth fully engaging in – KISAGE worked wonders here too!. To conclude, reading your blog post came on the heel of my watching a documentary about Phil Stutz, a psychotherapist with some unconventional technics and a few ideas that resonated with me. One was that it helps to “..understand the three Aspects of Reality that no one — really, no one — can avoid… Pain, Uncertainty and Constant Work.”. A good life is not a life without these, but one where we distill positive forces from them. Conflicts, more often than not, include all three aspects.

    1. Kindred spirits, unite! I love finding other INFJ’s as we have so much to talk about!! I’m glad the link and the blog provided you with so much meat to chew on. And you are absolutely right, we have to “pick our battles”. We can’t fight them all (there are way too many) but when we choose wisely, and trust that conflict will help us to grow, expand, and find other opportunities for growth as well, we can go into battle knowing that we will do our best to stand our ground (something I’m working on.) I will see if I can find more on Phil Stutz. “Pain, uncertainty, and constant work” sounds like they would go head-to-head with what Kristin Neff (Self-compassion) touts, namely, “Mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness.” I think if we keep those six in mind we have the foundation of understanding what life — AND LOVE — are all about.

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful post and happy holidays.

  3. Hi Courtenay,
    Been enjoying your trail insights. I’ve been on the trail for over 50 years and this year, in November, I saw and realized something I’ve overlooked completely; the Licorice Fern’s springtime is in November! That really throws me. They are sprouting everywhere. I marvel at them as I’m hiking along!
    Happy Trails!
    Marilyn