I’ve got some bad news about your pain.
Actually, it’s really not bad. It just feels that way at first. I myself recently figured it out during a pesky little bout with stress.
It began a few weeks ago, when I noticed a sense of anxiety creeping up at about the same time every Tuesday morning. It left my shoulders tense, my mind buzzing, my head feeling a little…out of sorts.
I hated it.
I was also perplexed. There wasn’t anything special about Tuesday mornings. Yet, try as I might I couldn’t force my brain to figure out what was behind the pain, which meant I couldn’t fix it.
Instead, I had to face the truth. That – for the moment- there was nothing I could do but sit there and take the pain…to wait it out until I could feel it fully, notice the pattern, identify the problem.
It’s an awful solution, this waiting it out. But it works.
To explain why I now turn to another pesky, uncomfortable phenomenon.
Specifically, we need to examine the pimple.
Stay with me.
You remember the pimple, yes? That painful little blemish that would pop out on our skin at the most inconvenient times.
Some were easy to fix…teeny little whiteheads that arrived on our nose one morning. A hot washcloth, a quick squeeze perhaps, and voila…gone!
Others were significantly more resilient. They began deep down. They let us know – through achy throbbing and a touch of redness – that they were on their way.
The problem was we tried to fix the deep ones in the same way as the little ones. We tried to force them out of us before they were ready. We pinched and squeezed them before we could even see them.
This, you might recall, only made them worse. It irritated them, made them bigger, made them last longer. Made them hurt more.
Made them feel like the center of the universe.
Our pain is the same way.
Sometimes our pain is relatively simple:
- We grow tense as a project deadline approaches, then relax once it’s finished.
- We miss our friend from college and so we give him a call.
- We have an awkward moment with a co-worker over the last donut, then laugh it off.
This kind of pain is mild and short-lived. It’s easily solved. We use our brains to find the best logical step forward, then move on.
Other kinds of pain are more complex:
- We grow anxious whenever we need to meet with our boss.
- We feel a new tension when we talk to our sister.
- We find we are irritated whenever we run across a certain individual at the office.
This kind of pain – related to fear, anger, sadness or anxiety – hurts more deeply. It’s often a symptom of a bigger issue, a pattern that tells us something is awry.
The problem is that we try to fix this kind of pain in the same way we fixed the simpler issues. We look for the quick fix, obsessed with making the pain go away as quickly as possible, desperately forcing solutions that don’t work.
We avoid the truth…that to really address this kind of pain means we actually need to feel it. We need to allow it the time to fully surface so that we can examine it, recognize its patterns, determine its source and address it.
That’s how we figure out what the pain is really about…that we’re in the wrong job, that we’re threatened by our sister’s new circle of friends, or that we resent our co-worker because of her recent promotion.
(I pause here for a quick note…to say that I do recognize there is also an even deeper kind of pain – the kind related to trauma or life-long stress – that needs much more professional guidance than this blog post could ever offer. I do know my limits on this one, so please read with care. Now back to the post…)
I’ve found that the greatest leaders are masters at handling their pain. They’ve also figured out the greatest trick of all – determining which kind of pain they’re dealing with. The whitehead or the zit.
From what I can tell it comes down to noticing how deeply you feel the pain – the anxiety, the fear, the anger – and how quickly it fades.
Taking a simple step and moving on completely probably means you’ve just popped a simple whitehead.
Taking a simple step, then having the pain return or nag at you when you’re alone with your thoughts might just mean you’ve got a zit on your hands, which will require some extra time and discomfort before it can pass.
The good news?
If you feel it, identify it and deal with it directly, chances are it will pass. Heck, it might not even take that long.
And, just like puberty, you’ll find yourself on the other side of it in no time.
Can’t find a quick fix for your fear, anger or anxiety? Allow yourself to feel a little discomfort before trying the quick fix or forcing it away.
If you think you’re alone in this, just think of me on Tuesday mornings. Chances are I’ll be doing the same thing.
Now go do good…and do it well.
PS – A quick shout out to the jogger in San Diego who – without missing a stride – waved a friendly hello and informed me that she follows this blog. If you’re reading this know that your random comment made my Sunday. Thanks a million!