Not All of the Most Important Lessons Come from Struggle

Celebrating Lessons Learned from Joy - 50th Podcast Episode!

 Karen & Sarah, Road Trip Warriors

Karen & Sarah, Road Trip Warriors

I talk a lot about the lessons I’ve learned through struggle, I call them “opportunities for growth”, and many people believe the most important lessons in life are those learned during difficult times. I learn a lot about my strength, resilience, and courage through those obstacles and grief; I also learn a lot about myself, my relationships, and the world around me through happy experiences.

My sister and I decided to take a road trip in the last week I was in Colorado before moving to Washington DC for a paid internship after college. I had just graduated from Colorado State - Fort Collins, and she was a second semester freshman at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. It was early January, our dad was fixing my little Chevette to make the trip to DC, and we had just a few days before I had to leave.

We weren’t sure where we wanted to go, and as we drove to the AAA office to grab a map, we talked about maybe making it to Las Vegas. The AAA associate was concerned about this long trip, I think she assumed we were about 16, and she mentioned as she highlighted the route from Colorado Springs to Las Vegas: “That’s a very long drive, ladies, especially in winter!”

“That’s okay, it’s really not about the destination.”

Karen and I left with our map, stopped at the nearest Kmart for a case of oil, she drove an old Honda that burned through oil, and headed north and then west.

 Always Great Travel Companions

Always Great Travel Companions

Skirting Denver to head west, we passed the familiar sign “Buffalo Overlook”, and I couldn’t believe it. “Karen! There are buffalo at the buffalo overlook!” Puzzled, she smiled at me. “Um… yes, Sarah.”

“I’ve passed this sign a hundred times at least, and I look out every time, and this is THE FIRST time I’ve ever actually buffalo here!”

We drove into Glenwood Springs, a beautiful little town in western Colorado, where we had spent some time as young children.

“We could stop here and soak in the hot springs, and maybe see if they have a room for us here.”

Karen told me she was eager to get out of Colorado, so we kept on driving.

As we chugged in the little Honda up a hill just over the Utah state line, we realized the car was misfiring and having some trouble with acceleration, so we pulled off at the next exit with a gas station.

It was a gas station with a diner nearby - and nothing else. We filled up the tank and I put a bottle of dry gas into the tank, just in case there was moisture in it. Pulling around to the diner lot, I noticed the blinds of the diner pop open, and a few pair of eyeballs staring out at us. I went in to use the bathroom, which was a mistake, and when I came out, Karen was holding one of the spark plugs in a paper towel in her hand.

She asked if I happened to have some sandpaper with me that we could use to rub the carbon off the edges of the plus.

“No, but I have an emery board!” It didn’t fit in the gap, so I peeled the paper off the board. One at a time, my sister pulled out the plugs, I carefully pulled the sandpaper through the gaps, and she put them back. At some point, one of the pairs of eyes from the diner came out to ask if we “ladies” needed help. His belly arrived significantly before he did, and when we said we were okay, he huffed, annoyed, and stomped back into the diner. We saw the blinds pop open again as all of them watched us finish our work.

“McGyver!” Karen shouted, and we high-fived.

We drove away and didn’t have any more acceleration problems the rest of the trip.

Our adventure was filled with hilarious moments, especially late that night when we had been on the road for 8+ hours and were tired and punchy.

Eventually we stopped in Mesquite, Nevada. I got us a room, then we walked into the casino to look around. We won $300, got ID’d at least 6 times in the hour we were wandering, and were compensated for the hassle by the manager, who bought us dinner in the restaurant.

Later that year, I took the map we used, wrote short stories and quotes on it along the route, attached some pictures, and gave it to my sister in a frame as a gift.

We learned so much about ourselves and our relationship on that adventure. Our resourcefulness, silly senses of humor, and resilience was on full display. Maybe we knew innately that we held those traits, but experiencing this together was great confirmation.


The next time you are experiencing an “opportunity for growth”, think about some of those adventures you loved, those stories in your life that brought you great joy, and really consider the lessons you learned from those experiences. And when you’re in the middle of one of those joyful adventures, take time afterward to find the lessons in it.