How Pain Shows the Way
The pursuit of excellence turns ugly when it makes you negative and critical.
There’s a thin line between reaching high and negativity. Furthermore, turning the critical light inward is dangerous. During a recent seminar a leader asked, “What do you do when you remember all the things you’ve done wrong and forget the good.”
I relate to his frustrations. Perhaps you do as well.
Sincerity, in addition, has a dark side. Sincerity turns ugly when it turns to guilt. You hunger to make a difference and fall short. The darkness emerges when blame rises up.
Beating ourselves up wastes brain power, drains passion, and slows growth.
Facing the dark side of sincerity and pursing excellence:
You aren’t the only one that falls prey to a ravenous inner critic. Others feel the bite as well.
Lead through your pain. Embrace the dark and ask, “What lifts and energizes me when the inner demons beat me down?” Is it an encouraging word from another, a short walk to refocus, prayer, reading, or thinking of past successes?
Lead through your pain by giving what you need to others. Step into someone’s office and tell them what you need to hear. Give them something that soothes you. Send a text that you’d love to receive.
I don’t have an answer that permanently defeats your inner critic. Just a strategy you can use every day. Pain shows the way when you give to others what you need yourself. Perhaps, as time passes, your inner demons will realize they aren’t defeating you and they’ll give up.
Your dark side may serve you well.
How can leaders use their own pain to lift and motivate others?
How might your personal demons be showing you the way toward higher success?
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You quote your seminar participant: “What do you do when you remember all the things you’ve done wrong and forget the good.”
I’ve had a similar question come up in my seminars, and so I include the following ideas in almost every workshop I do:
The recognition of something we might have done differently is based on an awareness that has expanded beyond the awareness that was in place when we made the choice we made.
Therefore, we need to credit ourselves, and that past choice, with at least contributing to our current awareness. Appreciate, and celebrate the expanded awareness, and the new understandings and better choices we are now capable of making. Look forward!
If we continue to denigrate ourselves for past “wrongs” we not only ding our self-appreciation—which does not help us with maintaining our creativity, spark, and productivity—but additionally, we slow or foul the machine of learning and expansion.
As I’ve told others, personally, I wouldn’t want to repeat my errors, but I also wouldn’t want to give up the awareness, and inner life, I’ve won as a result. 🙂
I agree – we are the sum of our past experiences, and those painful ones are still part of what made us who we are now. I’m convinced that complete understanding is often accompanied by failure, so long as the failure is an intermediate point and not the last one.
Dan, we have to tame our own dragon before we even stand a chance of helping others tame theirs. Our dark side when we serve it is what we see as chaos. However, when we let our dark side serve us, we call it order. I guess sometimes people forget that the trick is not learning how to stop fear or your dark side. The trick is learning how to deal with your fear or dark side.
Great point, Thabo. To expect there not to be any dragons is unrealistic, so instead of hating or fearing it, we should learn to recognize it and in some way control or mitigate or at least adjust for it.
Pain is like the fuel cell to a hot-air balloon. Although it has the potential to burn up everything around it (resulting in a tumble to the ground), if properly harnessed, can provide a wonderful ride with incredible views at impressive heights.
Thanks for the perspective on pain, Dan.
Hi Dan, great post for me. As a Calvinist I’m really good at guilt. I think those embarassing and painful recollections can serve the purpose of remininding us of the difference between striving for excellence and trying to be perfect. Part of excellence lies in how we deal with failure, our own and that of others. Character is forged in the heat of adversity.
Sometimes our pain is what equips us to help others. If you’ve never been reprimanded, how can you help someone else deal with the embarassment and resentment? If you’ve never lost a job, how can your advice seem credible to a jobless person? No one relates to someone who seems perfect; everyone wants to be like that successful person who came from where they are.
I love your keen insights and your ability to express these concepts in such a succinct manner. I have begun to recognize this truth in my own experiences, and it’s very encouraging to hear the affirmation of it’s reality from someone else’s perspective.. Thanks for sharing!
I agree that inside demons are powerful destroyers than anything else. Strong will power and passion to overcome can defeat them. Leaders can lift others by showing their own odd journey to success. They should show others that actual success starts from failure and not from the repeated success. Leaders should motivate others to sacrifice smaller gains for bigger opportunities. They should teach others how to sacrifice in life.
Personal demons emerge as enemy when they hinder our growth. When they encourage us to help others to motivate, then they are friends. I generally take demons as development blockers. So, any kind of demons should be overcome to achieve true success in life.
I think it is important to create an environment that allows, no even, encourages failure. Because if we become so afraid of past and future failures, we’ll end up not daring to do or even suggest anything new/change. Growth and innovation feeds on new idears and different inputs. A wise leader is one that recognizes and encourages this.
Personally I have also found help in the technique where I at the end of the day, find three things that I am pleased with having done/achieved during that day. It works well with everybody, both adults and children. It leaves me dweling on achievements rather than failures. And So far I have found three things every single day.
Today I will probably be pleased with having replyed here, both finding the time and formulating an answer to a difficult predicament.
This is great stuff!!!
I DO have a permanent solution to the Inner Critic! There’s an amazing form of transformational psychology called Internal Family Systems that handles it. Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss do amazing work with the Inner Critic so that it is no longer our default functioning nag.
I’m a big fan of Jay and Bonnie and I highly recommend their work. Google them or IFS and you’ll find a ton of great stuff. What I found from working with their books and classes is that I have almost completely eliminated the pull of my Inner Critic and freed up most of the energy that it dominated for so many years.
I hope this is something that can be useful to the leaders in this community. Leaders with more energy can do so much more in the world!
Thanks for adding resources to the conversation!