I was a college wrestler at Cal Poly, then, I got into MMA. I fought in 99 and 2000 out of SLO Kickboxing with Scott Adams, Chuck Liddell, Gan McGee, and a bunch of other tough dudes.

Back then, we had this saying. “Going into a fight, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” The idea was that no matter how hard we trained and sparred in practice, no matter how well prepared we thought we were, something changed when you stepped into the cage to fight another guy who wanted nothing more than to kick your ass.

Practice was practice. The fight was our test.

Life is the same way. The rehearsal is much different than the test. Think about the business meeting you’ve prepared for, only to stammer and look like an idiot when the CEO asks you to explain yourself.

This shows up in our relationships too. When you’re getting along with your significant other, things are fine, and you’re probably a pretty cool cat. Then you get into an argument and you lose control…saying things you regret, acting like an asshole. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been embarrassed by how I acted during an argument.

So what does this have to do with our topic? How are difficult people actually a blessing in our lives?

Well, most of the time, we’re around people who we get along with pretty well. We’re on cruise control and there aren’t great demands on us to be patient, kind, forgiving, or humble. We go to church and vow to be loving to all God’s children. That’s the rehearsal. That’s practice.

Then, we run across that one jerk. You know, the guy at work who takes credit for your hard work, then cc’s your boss on an email throwing you under the bus when something fails. Or, the idiot on the road who cuts you off and makes you slam on the brakes to avoid an accident. Or maybe it’s your cousin, or brother, or mom who’s always complaining about their life but never doing anything to make it better. Or your new boss, who’s made your’s and everybody else’s lives a nightmare.

So, most of your life is rehearsal, and it’s only when we’re confronted with conflict, with a difficult situation or more likely a difficult person, that we are tested.

For me, that person was Poorme (not her real name). I call her that because nothing was ever her fault and people were always trying to take advantage of her and treat her badly. She thought of herself as a victim, and as a result, she viewed the world through that lens. She ate a daily stew of resentment and gloom.

Years ago, I got hired into a leadership role at a large company, Poorme was an employee who reported to me. During the job interview process, before I was even hired, people warned me about her. When they found out that I was going to be her boss, they were like “ooohhhhh, I’m sorry.” or, “Oh, this is gonna be good! Finally, someone is going to deal with her.”

And she lived up to her reputation. The first time I met her she TOLD me that she had deserved the promotion to that position and couldn’t believe that those idiots would hire an outsider (me) instead. I couldn’t hold a meeting with her without her crying and taking any feedback as an insult. It was bad.

My natural inclination was to avoid her…but I realized that she was actually a test for me. She tested my compassion, my humility, my gratitude more than anyone else I knew. She was the guy in the cage, trying to kick my ass.

Once I realized this, I started treating her differently, I started engaging her more. I realized that her attitude had nothing to do with me and everything with her being unhappy with her own life. And when I stopped avoiding her or being scared of how she would react and the more I treated her with respect, gratitude, and compassion, something magical happened. I became more respectful, and grateful, and compassionate in all areas of my life. I also had less anxiety when interacting with other difficult people.

Another magical thing happened… we started getting along. She stopped being so resentful and angry. She felt the positive energy I brought into our interactions and she started returning it. Poorme was a blessing in my life. She made me better.

Joel Olsteen says that there are some things we can only learn in a storm. Difficult people can act as mini storms in our lives. Giving us a chance to test our character. To bring out our best.

So, I want you to start thinking about the difficult people in your life differently in two ways:

1. Their behavior is not about you. It is a result of them living a fearful life. They aren’t arrogant and rude because they are confident. They are arrogant and rude because they are insecure. Truly confident people are humble.

2. They aren’t there to ruin your day, they are there as an opportunity to test yourself. So test yourself.

If you allow it, and embrace it, the difficult people in your life can make you a better person. And if you allow it, they can drag you down to their level and make you miserable. It’s 100% your choice.

You are not a victim of the difficult people in your life. You are the recipient of their gift. Accept it, say thank you, and change your life.