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Suffering is Optional

Angie Morgan, December 17, 2018


Suffering is Optional

My dear friend and colleague, Eric Spencer, has a great saying whenever he facilitates a learning session: 

“Suffering is optional.” 
To his participants, this means that if they have to go to the restroom, they don’t need to raise their hand. If they need to take a call, they can leave the room. If they’re not enjoying the company at their table, they can move. 

In other words, there are times when you have to suck it up … and there are times when you don’t. Learning should be one of the latter. 

I love this advice, as it’s great for setting classroom expectations. But it’s even better for life. 

I recently passed off Eric’s advice to a woman I’m currently mentoring. Now that she’s fresh from grad school and putting her degree to use, she’s discovering that her working environment is less than best. Work, to her, has become an endurance sport, an experience where she has to coach herself daily to get and keep her head in the game. I reminded her that she has a lot of control over her circumstances, and she always has the choice to leave. She agreed that she could take that route, but shared that she’s just not in the position to resign at this time. As I listened to her reasoning, I was reminded of a quote: 

If you don’t like something, change it.
If you can’t change it, change how you think about it. 

In situations where you feel stuck, this is great guidance. As I tell my children all the time: thoughts become beliefs that become behaviors. The most important aspect of our thoughts is that we are the authors of them – we create them. Left unchecked, they can make us a victim of our own circumstance. By becoming more conscious of them, and intercepting the negative thoughts and replacing them with more positive ones, we can put ourselves back in the hero’s role of our own life journey. 

To practice this, try these techniques: 

  • Shift Focus. When thinking about why things are bad, ask yourself what you’re learning from the experience and how you’ll apply it going forward. This shift helps take your mind off of what you don’t like and refocuses you on what you’re learning so that you can find value from the experience (even if it’s unpleasant).
  • Take the Long View. If you’re not happy about a situation, ask yourself how you’ll feel about it 10 years from now. Will you even remember it? Perspective is key, especially when we recognize that some of the egregious things that happened 10 years ago are inconsequential to our lives today.
  • Remind Yourself: Suffering is Optional. Even in the most difficult times, there’s an opportunity for levity. If you’re feeling frustrated, think of the people around you – I bet they could use your sense of humor or a reminder that this, too, shall pass.

Hey, leaders. We’re all in this together. Here’s to committing ourselves to getting better so that we can positively influence the world around us.

Share: | Tags: Leadership Behaviors, Mindset