On Suffering and The Three Crowns Posted on July 31st, 2015 by

I have had so much fun this summer.

But this week, I have been particularly struck by the heartache we all experience in life.  No one escapes.  One camper has severe ADHD, another suffers from debilitating anxiety, another is deeply grieving the loss of a friend who died in an accident recently, another has a father who was recently diagnosed with cancer.  And these are just the campers who have spoken with me about their struggles.  Everyone has their private – and sometimes public – pain.

And the question these kids ask me is:  How do I apply the Three Crowns when I am so sad?  Or so anxious?  Or so hurt by the seemingly random arrows of life?

The answer is:  The Three Crowns of Positive Attitude, Full Effort, and Good Sportsmanship does not promise that sad, or difficult, or anxious times will not visit us.  In fact, the Three Crowns only promises us ways to live life more fully in the midst of our struggles.

I, myself, have ADHD and have suffered from anxiety much of my life.  And, when I see someone else suffering, I know that when they say they “suffer”, they mean “suffer.”

And yet, we can live powerful, positive, productive lives, not in spite of our suffering, but because of it.  When we connect with others who suffer (which is all of us in one form or another), we know we are not alone, and just maybe we can get through this.


So, to the camper whose friend died, who asked “How can I live the Three Crowns when I am so sad?” I said, “Let yourself be sad.”

When Steve died, I spent hours in bed grieving some days.  I didn’t try to ‘Three Crowns’ my way out of it.  I let myself sink into and go through the grief.  And when I was able to get up, I couldn’t ‘make’ my sadness go away.  For positive attitude, I tried to look to the others around me and thank them for their support.  For full effort, I simply put one foot in front of the other because that is all I could do some days.  And for good sportsmanship (treating others the way I want to be treated) I tried to listen to others who were suffering and just be there for them, because my pain was alleviated when others listened and were just there for me.

When I spoke with the camper with severe ADHD, I didn’t lie.  I said I know it can feel like the world is one big, tangled mess of opened drawers that get forgotten to be shut, of sometimes missed assignments, of distraction so acute sometimes others think you’re not trying.  But I also said that for me, positive attitude is to see the gifts ADHD had brought me, like the ability to hyper focus on important projects, creativity in my thought process (which never slows down), the joy of finding a job where I can do so many different things where my talents are able to be used, and to have staff around me who make up for the places where I lack competency.  For full effort I continually try to remember to shut the refrigerator door when I leave it open (a frequent question from my sixteen year old daughter is, “Dad, did you mean to shut that cupboard or are you just airing out the dishes again?”).  I make lists to remind myself that cupboards need to be shut when they are opened (this works approximately 50% of the time, which is better than zero, I think).  And for good sportsmanship, I try to cut others slack who are doing their best but will, seemingly at random, get distracted and start staring off into the clouds (which is not a bad activity, if I say so myself).

And to the camper who suffers from debilitating anxiety or depression, I can only say, “I wish I could make it better.  We are here for you.”

That is what the Three Crowns can help us do.  Connect with others.  Accept what we can’t change and change what we can. It gives a framework to reach out to others, to notice the good in them, to be kind to ourselves as we acknowledge our common humanity.


You may not have a perfect life.  You are not alone.  We are all – and I mean all – in this together.

And even in the midst of our struggles, there can be comfort, and even joy in knowing we can help each other through this thing called life.

How Can I Contribute?



  1. […] strained relationship with a friend. While those may not be things commonly posted on social media, times of challenge or suffering can provide opportunities to practice these […]

  2. Jennifer Kirby says:

    Thank you so much for this post, as well as all of them this summer. Two of our family members passed away within a week of each other this month and so your post was very timely.

    We *are* all in this together and the support of our family, friends and loved ones makes such a difference. It makes all the difference.

    Thank you for your honest writing. Each blog entry is a gem to me.

  3. Ann Ridenour says:

    As the grandmother of two ADHD teens, with anxiety issues as well, you have helped me see the world through their eyes with your well written post, Neal. I forwarded the blog to their mom, and she said it was so helpful to her. You have such an amazing insight and ability to relate to people. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  4. Connie Kabrud says:

    I am loving the opportunity to read these blogs, Neal! Thanks so much for the time and concentrated effort – much appreciated.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thank you, all. This post has hit a nerve with many people. I have gotten a lot of private replies to it as well from parents whose children are suffering and need to not feel alone, from parents who are experiencing their own suffering, and from junior campers who have continued to share their stories of challenges they are facing. There is a lot of pain in this world. And more than ever I believe we are in this together to help each other through it. I am heartened by your comments. Thanks again.

  5. Gordon Hill says:

    Great stuff Neal, thanks for sharing. Look forward to seeing all next summer.
    If your ever in Chicago?

  6. Sherri Auleta says:

    Well said! great great grate “cheese”! ?

  7. Lynn Larson says:

    Neal, I LOVE your blogs! They are so real!

  8. Joan Guenzel says:

    Thank you for the profound insight, sharing of your walking through the grief. Being present with the kids. Vital and crucial modeling for all campers, counselors, coaches and families. Love the blogs.

  9. Rozan says:

    Wow, very powerful, Neal! You are an excellent writer – and so much more!

  10. Peter WHITIS says:

    Speaking as a psychiatrist now retired, everything you said is right on. I didn’t even know the formal “three crowns” but I found the same truths in my work with troubled people. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Jane says:

    Neal and TLC Staff,

    I have enjoyed these posts all summer – great lessons for us that couldn’t make it “live” to TLC this year. It’s an amazing place. Once again, this one provided a moment to reflect and look at how I can live the Three Crowns.

    Keep doing what you are doing – the impact isn’t always visible, but definitely there! Thank you!

  12. Karen Mann says:

    A simple thank you, Neal!

  13. Linda Mauthe says:

    Excellent words to live by. Thank you Neal!