“WILL IT HURT?” my child suspiciously eyes the injection in the physician’s hand. “A little,” he says. It’s what he always says. She cautiously stretches out her arm, as I wrap her in mine, wanting to inoculate her against the violent reaction to come. It’s a scene that was replayed every time I took my young children in to the see the doctor. Pain.
Most healthy humans will run from it. After all, if it hurts, it has to be bad, right? Not so. I dislike, even hate pain as much as the next person but lately, especially after my foray into hiking, I’m re-examining my relationship with it. Just like my children, I usually assess every hiking expedition trying to weigh the difficulty and the amount of beating my body will take. How much will it hurt, I want to know.
Perhaps then I can prepare myself for the onslaught. Truth is, it always hurts more than I expect, and there comes a point when I have to make a decision on whether to go beyond the pain barrier or not.
But then again, life is like that. It will hurt. But growth comes when we move out of our comfort zones and go beyond the pain barrier. We came into this world through some pain, mostly experienced by our mothers. We experienced the pain of hunger, or real physical pain when we tumbled as we learnt to walk.
We cried out in pain when our parents left us even momentarily. We didn’t know it then but it was a precursor to the pain of losing a loved one that we would inevitably face one day. From the get-go, pain was part of the equation but that didn’t stop us from running from it.
Not all pain is to be avoided though. Some pain can be a tool in our personal development. For example, the pain one goes through to meet their physical fitness goals. The pain of delaying gratification so one can save towards a goal. The pain of sleepless nights preparing for an examination.
Sadly, many people do not go through with the programme, instead giving in to the lure of temporary comfort. That’s why many gym subscriptions are rarely used, novels never get written and brilliant ideas never see the light of day. For fear of pain of being rejected by their offspring, some parents do not discipline their children. For fear of losing the status quo, many adults do not have the uncomfortable conversations that engineer relationship growth.
Yet every human being who enters the realm of the truly great doesn’t do so without some pain. For Wangari Maathai it was the rejection of her ideas and the harassment by authorities. For Nelson Mandela it was 27 years behind bars. For the accomplished ballerina it is broken, bleeding toes.
For the research scientist, it is the pain of persistent effort; waking up every day trying to find a cure for cancer but not quite making the breakthrough as thousands succumb to the disease. Fortunately, the greats keep pushing beyond their individual pain barriers and the world is a better place for it. Like us, they probably hated the pain. Unlike the majority of us, their picture of a compelling future was stronger than momentary discomfort.
Nothing worthwhile comes easy and it becomes important to keep strong visual reminders of why you are enduring present pain such as saving for a house or fitting into a dress. Second, use your pain as a tool in your growth instead of running from it. Third, avoid quitting and aim to progressively increase your pain barrier.
In exercising, it might mean taking on a more challenging fitness regime. Fourth, share your experiences so that others can find inspiration to go beyond their own pain barrier.
However, not all pain is necessary and life would be one sorry affair if we didn’t experience more pain-free moments. In truth, we need the pain free moments as respite as well as joy. And surely that must be some of the point of our existence here, to enjoy our time, to enjoy our world and to enjoy our relationships.
However, we must not forget that another of life’s goal is progress and pain is occasionally the unwelcome path that takes us there. Next time you are tempted to run From your pain, use it to grow.