Do we agree?
Pain is not a friend. It’s never welcomed. We never go looking for it. We don’t want it. We fear it.
But at the gym, we hunt it down. We want it.
We seek pain because there is something to gain: chiseled abs, a protuberant ass, David-esque sculpted arms and legs… you get the (beautiful) picture. We know that some blood, sweat, and maybe a few tears, gives us great achievement of some great reward.
In fact, back in the early ‘80’s, Jane Fonda popularized the catchphrase “no pain, no gain” to encourage fitness fanatics to “feel the burn” with her sweaty, sexy, semi-masochistic, at-home video workouts of spandex and legwarmers. Ladies (and some men) wore their VHS tapes down and leotards out for the burn (baby burn!) because well, just look at Jane Fonda! Megyn Kelly knows what I’m talking about.
To some, feeling pain is feeling alive. Others, from Buddha to Aga Khan to Ernest Hemingway to Stevie Wonder, believe that experiencing pain and the challenge to overcome it is what life’s about.
Not all pains are created equally. Some are grander, more intense, direr than others, but that’s not to be judged because pain is subjective. Objectively speaking, “big” pains (physical, emotional, mental, financial, etc) affect everyone in big ways. Life-altering-level pains test our will, strength, focus, and discipline. I call them “rock bottoms.”
I’ve had my share of rock bottoms but I can’t share them all now because my kid is still a kid:
The time during my sophomore year at UC Davis when I was sitting on the Quad, brunching with my $1.50 bagel and cream cheese and my ATM receipt that told me I had $1.10 left of my $6,000 life savings. No, my parents weren’t paying my tuition so they couldn’t help me—they were busy paying off their attorney bills from their overrated and overpriced divorce. #scaredshitless
It was the time I was surprised to learn I was going to have a baby and I hadn’t a clue about being a mother.
It was the time when my husband (at the time) said he was going to move out and take “a sabbatical” from me and my 4-month old daughter. #shockedandconfused
It was the time when said husband charged $100,000 of my (perfect) credit temporarily for “cash flow purposes…” and promised to pay it off. #uncertain
It was the time looked me in the eyes and said he never said that (^) and he would never pay off those credit cards. #freakedoutandpissedoffashell
It was the time I had to file for bankruptcy. #humilatedscaredshockedsickdisgraced
It was the time I had to move (back) to Sacramento from the Bay Area and start a new life with my four-year-old daughter. #nowords
I know there are many worse rock bottoms in the world.** In my world, these moments subjectively shattered my foundation. These were my moments when I had to sink or swim/do or die/curl up in the fetal position or put my big girl panties on. I literally clawed, crawled, limped and crouched to make it through– with my chin up. As time went on, my lips followed. These moments instigated life-altering change. They tested me, they made me cry, they made me angry. They made me who I am today. They made me dignifiedly proud.
In retrospect, if I knew then what I know now, I’d probably welcome more pains in my life. But if today was ten years ago, I know wouldn’t say the same.
The next time you encounter struggle and pain bigger than yourself and you feel that sharp numbing feeling throughout your veins. Realize this is only fear. Take a deep breath. Think like you’re working out at the gym, going for the burn, no pain no gain…! And:
Take responsibility for your part. Own this bitch. You’re not a victim, so don’t act like one. There is a reason you’re here. You have a role in how you got here and you accept this. You have a goal, now hit it. Next…
Be responsible for your emotions. Just when you feel like you can’t do it…when you feel like life’s not fair…when you feel like you don’t want to do it… pour a bottle of water on your head. Let it run down your face. Now you’re feeling that too. Feeling is good. Feeling means you’re alive. It’s mindfulness. Now let’s move on…
Start small and work your way up. You want to avoid injury, overwhelming yourself, and burn out, so be mindful of your threshold and work with it. It’s kinda like starting out with light weights. It’s also kinda like when you’re at your 30th repetition, and you think you’ve all the burn you can take, push a little bit more. Feel what you know, ya know?
Use visual encouragement. Making a big fancy vision board may not be pour toi but try slapping a few reminders in opportune places to get that pie out of the sky. Be creative! Be literal! Be figurative! Slap post-it notes with the words “cool new penthouse” all over the creaky floors of your studio apartment. Cut out sandy beaches from Conde Nast and stick ’em all over your credit cards. Plaster a life-sized poster of the Statue of Liberty (for freedom!) in the middle of your hallway, next to your grand mirror. You see what I’m saying…
Reward yourself. When you accomplish a milestone, a task, or have taken care of your pain once and for all, be good to yourself. In workout terms, is this like a cheat day (or week) or maybe a new pair of trainers? Whatever it is, how you reward yourself is subjective (see a theme here?). Just make sure it brings you joy.
Whether you’re trying to say sorry, saving money for a house, trying to lose weight, filing for divorce, filing for bankruptcy, searching for your best words to stand up for yourself, looking for a new job, or saying goodbye to your unconscious grandma for the last time, don’t be afraid of pain. Pain makes self-reliance. Pain makes heroes. Pain is a catalyst for growth. Growth keeps us living, loving. Growth keeps us human.
Pain makes love.