When I was going through the regimen of the Outer Order, by far the hardest grade for me was Philosophus. I have almost no planets in the Fire signs in my natal chart, and oh, how it showed. I struggled with the spiritual alchemy of it all, sometimes mightily, but most of the time pathetically. My wife sometimes reminds me of the scorch marks I left on her, but then I remind her that she was in Theoricus at the time, just fanning my flames. I had taken no longer than six months in any previous grade. Philosophus would take me a year and a half. There were many a time that I didn't think I would make it, but I managed to overcome, thanks to a little help from my friends and loved ones, scorched or otherwise.
The peculiar thing about it now is, out of all the Golden Dawn initiations I conduct, by far the most efficacious ones are the Philosophus initiations. With a proper opening of the Fire Tablet, salamanders come pouring out and start nipping at everyone's heels. Closing the same, there follows a noticeable draft felt at the ankles. So I boggle at the ease of working with the element of Fire, because it gave me so much grief when I went through its Grade.
I was discussing this paradox with my wife while in the car tonight, and I made a realization. I was reminded of my struggles with social anxieties in my teenage years, and they were much harder and took a lot longer to overcome compared to my paroxysms in Philosophus. The Hiereus tells us in the Neophyte Initiation that "every obstacle can at length be conquered by perseverance", but what I just discovered is, the longer you persevere, the stronger you become.
Besides, I didn't engage in the quest for the Great Work because I thought it would be easy...