The Paradoxical Gifts of Hardship and Struggle 

 March 22, 2021

By  Marianne Gernetzke

Did you ever watch the Wizard of Oz movie as a kid?

I remember the anxiety I felt as the Wicked Witch rode her broomstick across the screen, as the Flying Monkeys snatched at Toto, and as the Wizard thundered his menacing voice from behind his screen. 

I empathized with Dorothy and her friends as they quaked in fear from the dangers of the Land of Oz.  And I quaked with them. 

No one likes to feel the icy cold grasp of fear and anxiety.  It can cause us to feel frozen and stuck and victimized.  Can you relate?

Yet the story of the Wizard of Oz has captured the imaginations of children since the beginning of the 20th century. 


Let’s look at the story from another perspective.  Each of the challenges faced by Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, Tin Man, and Scarecrow had a vital purpose in their empowerment.

The Cowardly Lion could not have demonstrated courage unless he was first presented with a truly scary situation.

The Tin Man could not have demonstrated exceptional love for others unless he was first presented with loss and disappointment and loneliness.

The Scarecrow could not have demonstrated intelligence unless he was first presented with an intellectually challenging problem.

Dorothy needed to become stranded in a strange land to truly understand that there is no place like home.

From this perspective we discover that each of the painful struggles of our lives are paradoxical gifts that offer us opportunities for our growth and empowerment.

You and I are just like Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow.  We are faced with similar choices every day – to allow ourselves to be paralyzed by our struggles and hardships, or to reframe our situations as opportunities, and animate our greatest gifts.

What if each of our hardships were just stepping-stones to greater awareness and more meaningful lives?

Here are some other examples:

  • Illness may offer us opportunity to treasure and nurture our health.
  • Emotional eating may offer us an opportunity to discover new ways to care for our emotions.
  • Deprivation in our lives may offer us an opportunity to rediscover where abundance is present.
  • Chronic pain may offer us an opportunity to discover the peace that comes from acceptance.
  • Death of a dream may offer us an opportunity for rebirth.

Something else wonderful happens when we view our lives from this symbolic perspective:  we can begin to view our personal shadows as valuable parts of who we are.  Maybe we need to witness our own cowardice, loneliness, or loss, for example, in order to truly appreciate and realize the transformation we can create in our own lives. 

Our shadow is part of our wholeness as a human.  Besides making us human, it gives us opportunity to overcome. 

Our shadow sets the stage for our personal growth journey.

Another of my favorite lessons from the story of our heroes in the Wizard of Oz is this:  Thanks to the Wizard, our heroes learn that they had what they needed within them all along.  Their struggle gave them opportunity to discover and activate these parts of themselves.

What strengths lie within you, waiting for you to animate them?

If you are in pain, experiencing hardship or grieving a profound loss, my intent is not to trivialize what you are going through.  I’ve experienced hardship too and I respect and am sorry for your pain.  We need to hold ourselves in compassion and care for ourselves, wherever we are.  And where you are right now is exactly where you need to be.

When you are ready, what happens for you if you choose to look at your life in this symbolic way?  What is your hardship telling you about the journey ahead for you?  And what strengths are waiting within you for an opportunity to shine?

If you are facing struggle and hardship in your health and wellness journey, I’d love to partner with you to help you create your higher wellbeing.  Feel free to contact me for a free consultation to learn more!

Marianne Gernetzke

Marianne Gernetzke, MS, PCC, NBC-HWC, A-CFHC, is a Health and Wellbeing Coach who helps drained and distressed adults to ease inner tension and create greater happiness and harmony in living. Marianne has re-awakened her own health and happiness after years of self-induced stress and perfectionism led to auto-immune symptoms and mental burnout. She offers individualized coaching services, utilizing over 20 years previous experience as a trauma-informed health professional and an intense curiosity about the connection between lifestyle habits and mental wellbeing. Marianne lives in rural Wisconsin where she enjoys family-time with her spouse and older children, growing organic vegetables, and artistic adventures with mixed media/crafts.

Marianne Gernetzke

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