Struggling or striving… words matter.


I am struggling with my writing today. When I struggle I often resort back to wondering why I am even doing this work. Why have I decided that no matter what, every Sunday, I am going to write; I am going to post something new to my blog. The word struggle has a negative connotation to it. It’s not a good thing. In life we don’t like to struggle.  I struggled growing up with my self image. My mom struggled to make sure our life seemed “normal” (whatever normal is?). I struggled with truly comprehending what I read. I had to read it again and again to make sense of it. It wasn’t a good thing to “struggle” yet all my life my struggles have helped me be stronger.

I am then reminded of hearing Ellin Oliver Keene speak one time and she said, “Savor the struggle.” I have held onto this idea that we should savor the struggle. When looking at it through this lens, the “struggle” is positive, right? Yet, in education (and life), we often use this word to define someone. We might say that a child is a “struggling reader” or a “struggling writer” and this is seen as the child being behind (another concept to grapple with). I’m going to be honest. I don’t like it when we define someone as “a struggler.” We all struggle. We all are working through something and trying to learn and grow.

So what words might I use instead? I don’t think “the struggle” itself is negative, it’s identifying someone as struggling. Instead, let’s think of different identifiers. Let’s think of using words such as striving readers and writers or developing readers and writers. When looking at it this way we all are striving or developing in some way. When I work with a child (or colleague), my goal is to find out what his/her next steps are… what are they striving for? What is it that they need help with developing next?

So yes, I am struggling but I don’t consider myself a struggling writer. I have many strategies and words to use to put on the page, yet sometimes I don’t know what direction to go. I am a striving writer- one that is developing who I am as a writer and wondering where this road may take me.

The words we use to describe ourselves and one another impact identity. “Personal identity is not something that we find by looking at ourselves in the mirror, nor is it given to us by the efforts and opinions of others. Identity is constructed from the way others influence the way we behave and see ourselves. We learn from the company we keep, and the greatest learning is generated by our perception of the way other people see us” (Smith, 2006, 91). It is important to think about the language we use and how that builds an identity for someone else. If I am seen as a “struggling writer” then I will enact that identity. If the responses I receive from others do not lift me up rather make me feel badly about my writing then I will retreat and not want to write anymore. It is our responsibility to use our words and “labels” to build others up. Next time you are in a conversation and want to identify someone as struggling I urge you to change your language and talk about that person as “striving” or “developing” or possibly use another word. A simple shift in language can begin to influence the way you see that person as well as how that person sees him/herself.

I am not going to identify as a struggling writer. I am a striving writer who is choosing to take this moment to savor the struggle.


Smith, F. (2006). Ourselves: Why we are who we are. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum   Associates.

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