What would you pay me if I said I could cure you of all suffering and pain and guarantee success and happiness? Chances are you’d be happy to shell out a sizeable whack. Once I too would have been ready to part ways with more than pocket change for this luxury. However I have since shifted my thinking and now see pain and suffering as a necessary evil – in fact not an evil at all.
Let me explain. We live in a world where people want success and want it now – promotion needs to be seen, clients need to sign, tries need to be scored and trophies won. What else would you put on Instagram for goodness sake! I often get enlisted to help people reach such targets (a job I love), but invariably I just can’t help them get there quick enough. Or perhaps I can, but the inevitable suffering or pain required is just not sexy and would-be clients or ‘toe-dippers’ (those wanting a quick-fix) may decide against a growth and development journey.
The reality is we want joy and success – but joy and success look different to different people. Mainstream thinking has us believe that to achieve we must be goal-focused, engage in positive self-talk, worship the ‘laws of attraction’ or make vision boards. For example, many in the sporting world will gravitate towards bravado to keep them on track and dismiss negative emotion as a hindrance to progress. But then I have also been awakened to the idea that failure must be celebrated as a means to learning. Confused? Stay with me.
Admiral Jim Stockdale, famous survivor as a prisoner of war in Vietnam for 7 years who later ran for US vice presidency, spoke of how those who survived the wretched war camp conditions were those who showed realistic, not blind optimism. He also said that the suffering he endured defined him, built him into the man he became. Similarly, Mark Manson in his engaging book, The subtle art of not giving a f#ck, talks about the 3 human scourges: 1) always trying to be positive, 2) only seeking pleasure and 3) always wanting to be right. The difficulty one encounters in chasing the impossible goals of being right and seeking only pleasure make for purposeless and painful lives. The recognition of reality and its challenges is vital to healthy navigation of the world.
As a self-confessed, hellishly impatient achievement and success-seeker I recently had a mind-shifting encounter with renowned international academic and systemic team coach Peter Hawkins. I’d attended a module he facilitated on Systemic Team coaching. As we rushed to the airport together to catch our respective flights I had one last request. “Could you give me just one piece of personal feedback?” After an intense 3-day course, I’d hoped for something profound. He pondered for a second that felt like hours, then said, “Don’t chase, embrace”. After that we went our separate ways - but his words stuck with me. A super successful, charismatic man just told me to chill and embrace what is, rather than chase what could be. This may sound inconsequential, but for me it was an epic ah-ha moment, and married with other recent insights about successful people, a complete game changer. Times may not always be exciting or even progressive, but they must all be equally embraced – especially if you want to become the fullest, most successful human being you can be.
Of all the trophy-winning campaigns I have been fortunate enough to be a part, there have been losses, and painful as they’ve been, they’ve also served as catalysts for behaviour change. Was it nice? No. Did we want or celebrate it? Absolutely not. But did we choose to embrace the suffering and move forward from there – absolutely yes. Whilst I would no way want to glorify failure (or even suggest trying to fail) the pain and suffering that follow are without doubt what create meaning in our lives, the things that teach us lessons and ultimately help us be successful – whatever that may mean.
So my invitation is to slow down and ask yourself how you view pain and failure. If you see them as weaknesses, you will in all likelihood perpetuate rather than avoid them. If you see them as a necessary part of the journey towards contentment and success, you may well have a journey with a positive end.