How to Turn Your Struggles Into Growth (What I Learned After Breaking My Back)

When I was in High School, I broke my back.

It was painful. But I didn’t even know it was broken for over a year.

After one doctor diagnosed my condition as back spasms, I coped with daily pain for a year before visiting a second doctor.

This time, we discovered the truth. I had TWO fractures in my lower back!

But since they were untreated for over a year, my fractures had scarred over. This meant they wouldn’t heal on their own accord.

“I’m Broken”

From that day forward, I had a new self-image.

Whether consciously or not, having a “broken back” led me to think that “I’m broken and I can’t be fixed.”

After all, the doctor said my fractures wouldn’t heal on their own! He also told me to avoid hyperextending my back, as it could worsen my condition.

“I guess I’m stuck with this…” I thought to myself. “Daily pain, and no more back-bending…”

And with that, I resigned to my condition.

I resigned to the presence of pain in my back every day. I did what I knew how to do to cope with it.

During college, I kept a bottle of ibuprofen in my Ultimate Frisbee bag at all times. I even started calling it “Vitamin I” because I took it so frequently.

After all, I saw my fractures as permanent. Which meant the pain was too.

But later on, I found out that this wasn’t the case.

Unexpectedly, something happened that transformed the way I see the world.

A Revelation

In my first year out of college, I started taking yoga classes. And I was terrified of the back-bending postures from the start.

At first, I opted out of any back-bends. (Doctor said I shouldn’t!)

But after a few classes, I decided to give it a go.

“Hopefully it worn’t hurt? Maybe it’ll be good for me?” I wondered while working through the discomfort in these postures.

I never actually believed I’d make progress on my back. I was just along for the ride in these classes.

But after taking weekly yoga classes for a year, I had a life-altering realization

I could bend my back WITHOUT PAIN! It wasn’t pretty…But I could do it!

This was an earth-shattering experience.

What had happened to my permanent fractures and permanent pain? Had I really overcome the pain?

As it turns out, I had! By easing into it step-by-step, one yoga class at a time, my body adapted.

What was once fixed in my mind had melted away into a sea of possibility.


It’s easy to believe certain things are permanent in life. I believed it with my back pain.

But reality tells us that the opposite is true. Nearly everything is impermanent! The only fixed element of life is change.

I learned this accidentally by taking yoga classes. And it opened my eyes to a new way of seeing the world.

  • Where I once saw permanence, I now saw impermanence.
  • Where I once saw fixed qualities, I now saw malleability.
  • Where I once saw rigid ways of being, I now saw flexibility.

The exciting thing about our lives is that every part of them CAN change!

It might not happen overnight, but with a patient step-by-step approach, incredible change is possible.

Despite that, taking the first step can be surprisingly difficult. Oftentimes, we never give ourselves permission to start.

Permission to Start

See these little brown specks?

No, they’re not raisins. 😉

They’re the seeds of a California redwood tree (aka Sequoia sempervirens.)

In case you aren’t familiar with the California redwood…They’re the tallest living trees on earth! They grow to over 375’ tall, and can live for 1,200-1,800+ years!

These are the biggest, most incredible trees on earth!

But they didn’t start out that way. Every redwood started as a tiny seed.

And the cool thing about seeds is that you don’t judge them for being a seed. Instead, you celebrate their potential by planting them, and nourishing them day by day!

Can you imagine judging a seed for being a seed?

“I can’t believe you aren’t a massive tree already! You’re hopeless. I’m not even going to bother planting you!”

It’s an absurd idea in that context.

But the same can’t be said for how we treat ourselves.

Planting Seeds

All good things start somewhere. This is true for great relationships, impressive skills, successful businesses, habits, fun projects, and all else that matters.

But starting something new is overwhelming. You see the intimidating gap between where you are and where you’d like to be.

You want to be a tree. But right now you’re just a seed.

So you judge yourself for it, and listen to the doubting voices that arise:

  • “You’re no good at this!”
  • “What if you never make it?”
  • “You could never do that.”

But without giving yourself permission to start, you can’t make progress. Without planting a seed, nothing new can grow in your life.

Put it Into Practice: Planting Seeds

  1. Note an area of your life where you’ve wanted to make a shift, but have talked yourself out of it.
  2. Let go of any judgments that arise when you think about the gap between where you are now and where you’d like to be.
  3. Identify the tiniest way for you to get started with that idea/project/habit/skill/business…That’s your “seed”!
  4. Plant that seed by taking action this week.
  5. Celebrate the heck out of the fact that you gave yourself permission to start, and took action.
  6. Keep moving forward, step by step.

As Lao Tzu says: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Planting Seeds —> Doing the Impossible

When I learned that my back was fractured, I thought backbends would be impossible for me in this life.

Practicing yoga helped me break that belief. I’ve gone from fearing back-bending to loving it.

I continue to practice it every week. I continue to improve. And I continue to apply this wisdom to stretch myself in all areas of life.

After a recent yoga class, I snapped a photo of my progress:

Not perfect. But it’s a far cry from “never hyperextending my back again!”

Step by step. Day by day. Week by week. Year by year.

That’s how we make progress.

But it all starts with giving yourself permission to plant a seed.

So…What seeds have you stopped yourself from planting in the past?

Would this be a good week to get started?

If you’re willing to take that bold step forward, shoot me a note and let me know what seed you’re planting.