Transforming Pain Into Growth

by | blog, Challenge & Growth | 0 comments

There are many amazing quotes on pain and growth. While exploring the ones I share in this article, I found myself getting so absorbed in the wisdom of the authors that I was forgetting about my own experiences. Maybe avoiding them a little.

That is a tendency for me – avoid the pain and maybe it will go away. Not! Avoidance only postpones, and sometimes lessens the degree of pain, but also lessens the opportunities to grow. So let’s grow together!

“Smooth Seas Do Not Make Skillful Sailors” – An African Proverb

I am a fair-weather sailor, but know the value of a skilled captain on rough seas. I am known, in my mind, as one to avoid confrontation and pain. So writing this article was a good chance for me to explore the concepts of pain and growth. I hope reading it will inspire some of you to do the same.

“Failure gave me strength, pain was my motivation” – Michael Jordan

My first thoughts of pain are the physical ones that accompany trying to improve in something.  Improve a skill, a sport, a practice, a new concept. Most of it involves muscle and coordination.

I am not an athlete and working out is a chore for me. However, I recognize that the pain of building good core strength and flexibility will serve me well as I age.  It is much harder to start those good practices later in life. Harder but not impossible. Harder in that it may hurt more and take longer to recover, but is certainly worth the effort.

When we overdo it we may tear a muscle and experience pain. Or when trying to learn a new computer program we may experience frustration and pain from eye strain resulting in a headache.

Each time pain rises is an opportunity to rest, observe the pain, and learn a lesson on how to do it better the next time – i.e., turning pain into growth. Michael Jordan is one of our current days greatest athletes. To hear him say that he experienced failure and pain makes me, for one, feel that I can make the effort to improve and work through the pain. 

My most memorable pain experience of pushing through happened many years ago, but it still brings me confidence today. I went on a hike into the Grand Canyon with a friend.  I thought I could handle this “easier” trail on the South Rim. Many hours later, I faced pain in a big way on the way back up. My legs were shaking from muscle fatigue but it was my lungs that were in pain.

You don’t have much choice in the canyon (no easy way out), just rest and keep going. By the time I reached the top, I was elated that I made it and felt a combination of humility and confidence.  It was an exquisite type of pain/gain experience and a lesson learned about preparation. 

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom” – Anais Nin

Another aspect of physical pain happens every day in nature. The seed pushing through its hull and up through the dirt to find the sun, the caterpillar changing into a butterfly after being tightly cocooned, and the process of childbirth. These all involve forcing or pain of some kind that results in expansion and growth. Nature is always evolving and we are part of nature.

We must not remain stagnant no matter how safe it feels to stay the same. Confucius said, “The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man without trials.” We are meant to grow in body, mind, and spirit.

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” – Buddha

Endings cause mental and physical pain, whether it is the loss of a loved one through death, divorce or just ending a friendship. It’s easy to say that things will get better, but it takes time. We are single souls on a journey through life, but we are defined by our relationships and need to feel a part of a system – at home, at work, in our community. 

Upon reflection, my first relationship breakup as a teenager was not surprising, but the pain was visceral and searing. It was a learning step into the world of being an adult and gave me the experience to know what building a relationship was about.

The earlier loss of my brother was also an ending that caused many years of pain, but also opened the door to wisdom (i.e., turning pain into growth). That experience taught me that finding safe ways to grieve was critical. It takes time, patience and the ability to express your feelings to move forward and adapt to loss. Not doing so, leaves fractures in the heart and allows the ghosts of grief to color one’s life. 

Marcus Aurelius summed it up for me with this quote, “If you are distressed by anything external the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment”. We need to acknowledge our pain and be gentle with our head and heart, but not carry it around because the weight can eventually sink us.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you” – Maya Angelou

And now, the pain of regret comes up. Regret lives in a world of spiritual and mental pain.

I read Maya Angelou’s quote to mean that we must live authentic lives. Be true to ourselves, find our voice, live our purpose, thrive in a way that makes us have no regrets at the end of our lives.

If you feel like you were meant to write a book but don’t want to face rejection letters, write it for yourself. Or may you love animals but cannot have them where you are, volunteer at a shelter.

If you want to run a marathon at 50, start now by walking or running and go a little further each day. Or if you have a passion to start a business, find a mentor.

If you are pulled toward something, explore it! Remember what Michael Jordan said and don’t let failure or pain hold you back – let them be the fuel to ignite your fire and enjoy the ride!


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