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5 Mistakes That Make Life More Difficult (and How to Avoid Them)

By Maxwell Leadership | September 26, 2023
5 Mistakes That Make Life More Difficult (and How to Avoid Them)

This blog post has been adapted from Dr. John Maxwell’s personal development resource, Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn. John Maxwell has been one of the world’s foremost personal and professional leadership experts for more than 40 years, and this guidebook for personal growth teaches you how to use everything – even losses – to your advantage. Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn is this week’s Book of the Week, so you can own this resource, as well as the Teens and Kids edition, for only $40.

In a favorite Peanuts comic strip, the woeful Charlie Brown pours his heart out to Lucy, who is positioned in her five-cents psychiatric booth. When he tells her that he’s confused about life and where he’s going, she says. “Life is like a deck chair. On the cruise ship of life, some people place their chairs facing the rear of the ship so they can see where they’ve been. Other people face their chairs forward; they want to see where they’re going.” Then Lucy asks, “Which way is your deck chair facing?”

Charlie’s reply: “I’ve never been able to get one unfolded.”

Let’s face it: life is more difficult for some than it is for others. The playing field is not level. You may have faced more and greater difficulties in life than someone else. You may have faced fewer. Your life right now may feel like clear sailing. Or it may feel like rough waters. And comparing our lives to others ultimately isn’t that productive. Life isn’t fair, and we shouldn’t expect it to be. The sooner we face that reality, the better we are going to be at facing whatever is coming toward us.

Don’t Make Life Harder for Yourself

Your life is probably plenty difficult already. The reality is that you will have to deal with those difficulties already no matter what. One of the keys to winning is to not make things even harder for yourself, which is, unfortunately, what many people seem to do – and usually in one of five ways. Take note of them to avoid these pitfalls yourself:


As you know, some people never make the intentional effort to experience personal growth. Some think they will grow automatically. Others don’t value growth and hope to progress in life without pursuing it. For such people, life is more difficult than it would be if they were dedicating themselves to continual improvement.

People who won’t grow are like the peers of the great scientist Galileo, who tried to convince them to believe what he was learning about physics. They laughed at him and refused to acknowledge his discoveries, saying that his theories could not be true because they contradicted the teachings of Aristotle.

In one instance, Galileo decided to give them a demonstration that would provide them with clear evidence of one of his observations: that two objects of different mass dropped together from the same height would reach the ground at the same time. On the day of the demonstration, the scientist climbed to the top of the leaning tower of Pisa. As the crowd below watched, he let drop together a ten-pound shot and a one-pound shot. They landed simultaneously. There could be no doubt that Galileo’s theory was correct. Yet many still refused to believe it—in spite of the evidence they saw with their own eyes. And they continued teaching the outdated theories of Aristotle. They wanted to hold on to what they had—even though it was wrong—rather than change and grow.


There’s an old joke that describes how many people make a bad situation worse by failing to think things through. It describes the strategies people use when they discover they are riding a dead horse. They try the following:

  • Buying a stronger whip
  • Changing riders
  • Saying things like, “This is the way we’ve always ridden this horse” Appointing a committee to study the horse
  • Arranging a visit to other sites to see how they ride horses
  • Changing the by-laws to specify that “horses shall not die”
  • Harnessing several dead horses together for increased speed
  • Declaring that “no horse is too dead to ride”
  • Providing additional funding to increase the horse’s performance
  • Purchasing a product to revitalize the dead horse
  • Forming a quality circle to find uses for dead horses
  • Revisiting the performance requirement for horses
  • Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position

These ridiculous practices were cited as being used in business, but we can just as easily sabotage our personal growth when we don’t use our heads. Life is filled with plenty of disappointments and heartaches without our adding to the problem.


Perhaps the people who have the hardest time in life are the ones who refuse to face reality. Author and speaker Denis Waitley says, “Most people spend their entire lives on a fantasy island called ‘Someday I’ll.’ ” In other words, they think, Someday I’ll do this. Someday I’ll do that. Someday I’ll be rich. They don’t live in the world of reality. 

Roots author Alex Haley observed, “Either you deal with what is the reality, or you can be sure that the reality is going to deal with you.” If you want to climb the highest mountain, you can’t expect to do it overnight. You can’t expect to do it unless you’ve been trained in how to climb and gotten into physical condition. And if you try to deny reality and make the climb anyway, you’re going to end up in trouble. 

What you do matters. And to prioritize personal growth, what you do must be based on reality. Journalist Sydney J. Harris observed, “An idealist believes the short run doesn’t count. A cynic believes the long run doesn’t matter. A realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short run determines the long run.”

Life is difficult. But here’s the good news: many of the things you desire to do in life are attainable—if you are willing to face reality, know your starting place, count the cost of your goal, and put in the work. Don’t let your real situation discourage you. Everyone who got where they are, started where they were.


The great heavyweight boxer Evander Holyfield said, “Everyone has a plan until they are hit.” What did he mean by that? The stress of a difficult situation can make you forget your plan and if you don’t handle the situation well, you won’t be able to make adjustments. Yet that is exactly what you need to be able to do—make good adjustments.

While it’s true that acceptance of a problem does not conquer it, if you face reality, you create a foundation, making it possible for you to make proper adjustments. And that greatly increases your odds of success in personal growth.

Advertising executive Linda Kaplan Thaler has been very successful in helping companies brand and market their products. She is the person who came up with the idea for the duck in the Aflac insurance commercials. She has worked on ads for many successful products, but she really loves to represent unsuccessful ones. She says, “I love working on a product that is ‘D-listed,’ meaning dead.” Why? The companies “are desperate so they will let me do anything.” Sadly, many people are unwilling to face reality and make adjustments until after something has died. If we want to be successful, we can’t wait that long.


People who respond correctly to adversity realize that their response to a challenge is what impacts the outcome. They accept and acknowledge the reality of their situation, and then act accordingly. 

Facing reality, maintaining a confident sense of expectation, and performing at your best may not be easy, but it is possible. And it does make a huge difference in your life. It sets you up to learn, to grow, and to succeed. That’s what Jim Lovell did when he was leading the Apollo 13 mission to the moon. When the Saturn rocket that was pushing them toward the lunar surface malfunctioned and they had to abort the mission and try to return safely to Earth, the future looked grim. Lovell calculated that their chances of survival seemed slim. “But you don’t put that in your mind,” Lovell noted at a forty-year reunion of the mission’s remaining astronauts and flight directors. “You don’t say how slim they are but rather how you can improve the odds.”

And if you’re wondering how else you can accelerate your personal growth…

John Maxwell wrote the book Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn for the times when your expectations don’t match the eventual reality. Did you know that there are eleven elements that make up the DNA of those who learn from a loss? For a very limited time, you can get a special bundle of books that teach several generations (adults, teens, and kids) how to learn from loss and move forward. That’s right. It’s ONE bundle featuring all three of these books:

  • Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn (for adults)
  • Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn (for teens)
  • Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn (for kids)

Get the whole bundle for only $40. (You save $11.97). Get it here.

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