The Unexpected Benefits of Being Worn-Out And Weakened

“I have come to believe that we are destined to be opened by the living of our days, and whether we like it or not, whether we choose to participate or not, we will, in time, every one of us, wear the deeper part of who we are as a new skin.”

– Mark Nepo

It’s surprising, isn’t it, how often we can feel worn out and weakened by life?

These days, it seems like that’s the default emotion of Americans: consistently worn-out and weakened.

Those who are unemployed are worn-out and weakened by the job search, and the Herculean effort it takes to get by on so little these days.

Those who are employed are worn-out and weakened by the demands of full-time employment, working overtime, and on weekends, sacrificing time with family and friends, just to keep the job, or advance in their career, or just to make the mortgage payment every month.

Those who are self-employed, or work several part-time gigs, are also worn-out and weakened:  they thought their new freedom would be a paradise, and instead they end up gaining freedom only to trade it with more responsibility and pressure. (After all, when you’re a contractor, or self-employed, there’s no boss or higher-level executive to blame if things don’t progress positively. The buck stops with you.)

After working on my book for so long, I also can’t help but be weakened and worn-out by all the editing, and revising, and nip and tucking, and the re-reading, and the re-reading, and the re-reading of the story.

My eyes get sore from looking at the screen so much. My fingers become like tiny ghosts. My ass gets numb. My legs feel like fettuccine.

There seems to be nothing worse than feeling worn-out and weakened by the exhaustive load of writing, and the push and pull of daily living.

We’re Tired, But Not THAT Kind of Tired

Let’s admit it: we’re all tired.

And let’s admit the kind of “tired ” we’re talking about is not the kind of tired that a simple nap, or a good night’s sleep, will take care of.

The tired we speak of is not necessarily, at its core, a physical exhaustion (although our body may reflect it). So, taking a long night’s sleep, for example, may help our situation, but not in the long run.

No, our “tired” is really a spiritual exhaustion, an emotional exhaustion, a psychological exhaustion.

Because the problem is deeper than the physical.

We have been pushing. The world’s been pulling. The work keeps calling, and we’re in the middle of it all, trying to keep our head above water.

We keep going, but we have to admit, we have no idea what it all means and what it’s all for.

“What is the point of all this exhaustion?” we often ask ourselves.

And the truth is:  we really don’t know.

Our Aversion to Feeling Worn-Out and Weakened

You know, we’re very obsessed with strength. Everybody wants to feel powerful and strong. Also, whenever we feel weak and worn out, there’s this feeling that we’ve done something wrong, or that something is just wrong with us.

Many of us, even today, have such an aversion to becoming worn-out and weakened that we try to avoid it at all costs.

Our aversion to weakness is no more evident than when we become sick.

We hate being sick because sickness forces us to feel worn-out and weakened. A sickness pounds us relentlessly, until we become as light and as thin as a sliver of grease.

We’re so vulnerable when we’re sick, like babies. We require the care of others. We also require some faith and hope that the sickness will pass.

You see, in perfect health we cannot be tested. We cannot be broken open. (At least, not as easily.)

But sickness, disease, stress, anxiety, disorders, and traumas—they all push us to confront the parts of us that we would otherwise ignore completely. These conditions force us into complete awareness, when we would otherwise be unaware.

When we are worn out and weakened, we are forced into being—and, yet, many of us would rather avoid “being” at all costs.

The Unexpected Benefits of Being Worn-Out and Weakened

Mark Nepo, poet, philosopher, and cancer survivor, speaks a lot about the process of being worn down by life in his book, The Book of Awakening.

Nepo’s theory is that the reason we are so worn down by life is because we’re all meant to wear our deeper selves.

Nepo says that the only way this “deeper self” can even appear is if life grinds us down to a pulp.

I know, it sounds brutal.

But let’s think about this for a moment:

  • Worn out and weakened, we are less likely to lie: because lying takes up so much of our energy. So, in a weakened state, we are forced to be more of ourselves.
  • Being worn down also destroys the illusion of independence, because, in our weakened state, we have to reach out for help, forcing us back into the reality of interdependence and community.
  • Being worn down forces us into matters of the spirit (a realm we might have otherwise avoided due to lack of scientific “proofs”). We sense that now we must have faith that our great weariness will pass, and that something bigger than us is guiding us.
  • Being worn down makes us more sensitive, more vulnerable, and our hearts are forced open: emotions flow through us more freely because we have no more energy to block them anymore. This is healthy.
  • Being worn down also creates softness and flexibility. This allows for us to make more dramatic changes in our lives—changes we would otherwise have resisted in our “strong” state.
  • Being worn down also means that our writing becomes braver, less encumbered, truer, more stained with our DNA. The work that comes out of our weakened and worn out state may shock and surprise us when we return to it in a more “strong” state. But we may find that the work has far more merit than anything we created in our heavily guarded “strong” state.

The Soul Comes Forward

At last, being worn down and weakened means that the veil of illusion is lifted. Our soul comes forward and becomes master and commander of our life. And, if we are awake enough, we may sense the rightness of it all.

After all, our soul is really who we are.

But how can we discover this truth until we are worn-out and weakened—ground down into a pulp—by life?

I am starting to agree with Mark Nepo that the daily grind is only pounding us hard in order to release our inner, savory juices. Thus, it is our job to honor and incorporate our “inner, savory juices” now, or risk having them pounded out of us later.

much softness,


Do you find that there are unexpected benefits to being worn-out and weakened? What are they? Please share your wisdom with us in the comments below!

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30 comments on “The Unexpected Benefits of Being Worn-Out And Weakened

  1. This is exactly how I feel. And although a nap won’t help, when I’m that worn out it’s hard to sleep at all.

    Thanks for giving us all a way out:)

  2. Arisa says:

    Being an introvert, when I’m tired I avoid people. This would mean that my true self won’t come out with other people. As far as my experience goes, this is true.
    I don’t see much of the benefits to being tired though, because I’m more negative and depressed when I’m worn down.
    But sometimes it feels good to just allow myself to be weak, to just let all the effort go. In such situations it’s really calming my soul and the chaos in my mind.

  3. MarinaSofia says:

    You are right – I have written things in a weakened state which surprised me (and were very different and better in some ways than things I wrote when I was my normal strong, bouncy self). I suspect Sylvia Plath wrote most of Ariel in just such a state. Conversely, I’ve also written some real rubbish in a weakened state.

  4. My biggest challenge when I’m worn out is a self-defeating behavior. I have to force myself to say “N-O. No.” Short word. Why is it so difficult to push it from my brain to my mouth? I call it the Gloria Richard Adopt-a-Problem Agency.

    The second challenge? “If someone offers to help, let them.”

    The unexpected benefits of being worn down? I often get out of the house, out of my head, and go to Starbucks to write. I draw energy from people. So, it’s a blessing I’ve been worn down often enough to have gained that insight.

    Great post! Thanks. Off to SBUX.

  5. Dana Bennett says:

    I’ve been beaten down, worn out and weakened by disease, loss of income, and anxiety. But I finally finally finally came to the conclusion that I’m a writer. And I have to use whatever energy directed towards that – not a goal, but a life. It’s hard every single day and I feel like I lost a lot of creative energy over time. But I am practicing every day, however little that may be. Even short-term illness can beat up a person. I’ve been going 6 years+ now. But spiritually I have to say it’s never been better for me. Your writing blog alone – because it is a force and a prayer all its own – helps me going on some days when it doesn’t seem possible. As always, Ollin, thanks for digging deep and writing this post.

    • Ollin says:

      I’m sorry to hear that illness has been in your life for so long. But I do know you are not alone.

      Many of C2C’s readers have incredible struggles they are dealing with and trying to overcome. My readers are some of the bravest, strong-willed people I have ever met. I encourage you to get to know them as well, I am sure they can offer you some more moral support.

      What do you say readers? Why not share your stories with Dana in these comments to make her feel more supported?

      I know you’ve shared your stories with me, already, but I’m sure Dana would love to hear them, too!

    • Linda B says:

      Losing my husband to Alzheimer’s Disease in January left me with so many emotions that I had suppressed during the years of care giving. Therapy has helped me to see that I had put myself aside and now must re-discover who I am really am. It is a long road and writing helps even if it is a short bit.

  6. This is a really thoughtful post, Ollin. It really resonated with me. Thanks.

  7. This is so wise! I agree fully – there’s a benefit to having our false self worn away. There’s much we can do though to juice ourselves up in a deep, profound, and nourishing way. I’m still in the dance, but letting more trueness be revealed.

  8. Ollin, usually when I’m that tired, all bets are off but I love the positive spin-” The veils of illusion are lifted.” Thank you for that positive visualization as we are what we think we are! Mark Lepo is one of my favorite poets. His work has been a source of writing inspiration for me. Here’s a quote from his book, Finding Inner Courage that resonates with your post today:” By inner courage, I mean the ground of quiet braveries from which more visible braveries sprout” (p.11) Maybe it is when our veils of illusion are lifted that we can be in touch with our inner courage. Thanks for another thought-provoking and meaningful reminder!

  9. Linda B says:

    Olin you really have a gift and we are all fortunate that you choose to share it with the world.

    • Ollin says:

      Thank you Linda. As long as I can continue to offer value and help others, that is really all that matters in this world.

  10. clarbojahn says:

    Thanks for introducing Mark Nepo to me because I haven’t heard of him. In my spiritual path we talk much of life being one of illusions. That we live in a dream. Maybe you’ve heard of A Course In Miracles?

    Thanks for sharing another perspective about our illusions.

    • Ollin says:

      Yeah, you must read him. I have heard of A Course In Miracles. I tried reading it, but I don’t know if it’s for me. Or maybe I’m simply not ready for it at the moment. The latter is more likely. 😉

  11. Good one, Ollin. Everything in life can be turned into a way to know ourselves better, is we take the right attittude. It reminds me a little of my post on the beauty of failure.

  12. Yvette Carol says:

    Ollin…I like the bravery behind your words. I always enjoy your posts. Worn-out & weakened, what an achingly perfect way of putting the human condition. Many years ago, I heard the first tenet of Buddhism was that being alive, being human, is to suffer. I recoiled thinking Yuck. But the sweet beauty and simplicity and truth in that statement has been driven home year after year, just through living… and experiencing that this is exactly how it is. I think accepting that is key to sanity.
    Yvette Carol

    • Ollin says:

      Right, in studying Buddhism I’ve learned that this is a serious misconception. Buddhism simply takes suffering as a matter of fact. It doesn’t mean suffering is the state we must be in a consistent non-stop basis, but it means that is prevalent in our lives and we must learn how to deal with it. Suffering can be transmuted into joy, peace, etc. One teacher who I love is Thich Nhat Hanh, a buddhist monk. I recommend his books to you and any other readers looking to know the truth of Buddhism. It is really not a religion but a way of life, and it also helps eliminate a lot of your suffering.

      • Yvette Carol says:

        Yes good advice. Thanks Ollin. I have Peace is Every Step on my bookshelf, and I agree with you, it’s simply wonderful

  13. Jeanne says:

    You’ve hit the spot as always Ollin. So many responses, I struggled to get to the end. But in a weakened state we learn who really love us and who we can trust. Plus we have to go deeper to make sense of life. Thank you for this. I’m about to share your post with a group. You are the wisest blogger,

  14. Divya says:

    A new perspective to being worn out, such a nice read. I think the point of exhaustion is happiness, for all of us.

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