It Has to Look Worse Before it Looks Better: Why You Shouldn’t Give Up

Jörg Schubert
Jörg Schubert

Many years ago, we were digging out a large vegetable garden in our backyard. We were conducting the dig manually: shovels slicing into the grass, overturning chunks of dirt and green. The work proved sweaty, long and seemingly worthless as, after what seemed like hours of labor, the area looked nothing like a garden. “It has to look worse before it looks better,” said my grandfather’s wife.

Although she uttered the words – as I said – many years ago, they have stuck with me and proved true. The healing of wounds, the obtainment of educational degrees, the forming of gardens – in all of these cases hardship and ugliness preceded what ultimately became healthy, successful or thriving.

Remember this as you move forward in life, finding yourself face to face with discouragement. The face of trouble will inevitably show itself and, at times, it will definitely look ugly. It can make the act of moving forward seem tiresome or pointless. You may even find that a way out of such hardship seems impossible. But it’s not.

It will get better because eventually we tire of the ugly; eventually we set out to make it better. Immediately or over time, we work up the gusto to keep chiseling away at the situation before us. As my family did with our garden: you’ll continue to work at it until, eventually, you’re witnessing plants grow in a patch of yard that once seemed fruitless.

Smiles will follow tears because we’ll tire of being sad or our eyes will run dry. The troublesome or otherwise ugly times we encounter are, like everything else in our lives, merely temporary. So to become trapped in the idea that “this will never get better” – it will only extend our feelings of grief, anger or helplessness.

It’s something we cannot avoid in life (although many try to); these ups and downs come naturally as we initiate changes. If you want to run a marathon, for instance, and build yourself into a better athlete, you better believe it’s going to look worse before it looks better. Before you can cross that finish line at mile 26.2, you’re going to feel pain and thirst and discomfort.

When moving into a new space, boxes and mess will reign – looking pretty bad – until everything finds its place, the boxes disappear and it finally looks like home. When striving to achieve that PhD, assignments may have you wishing for any possible escape. Push through, however, and no one can take your achievement away. Consider heartbreak: it hurts a lot before you feel liberated and at peace.

We often expect things to simply come easily. We think we should be able to jump into an incredibly satisfying, lucrative career before we put forth any sweat or effort. We think – or perhaps just want – everything good to be immediate. In reality, it takes hardship or ugliness to bring the truly rewarding or beautiful. And once we get to where it’s nice, we can reflect on the hardship and see the worth in it.

We must fight through our pain so that we can enjoy what lies ahead. If we become too discouraged in the worst of times, if we give up hope in an ugly place, we’re doomed to remain there. If we don’t remember that “it has to look worse before it looks better,” than we risk missing out on the goodness to come. TC mark

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