In my last Journal entry, I shared a painful story about getting threatened by my first boss (it was also my first week ever on a job).
At the time… I thought it was a bit much… but I was also 15 and lacked the maturity to stand up for myself.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that one of my issues was that I had a typical relationship with pain…
… I ran from it and tried to push painful memories and experiences out of sight.
I’d avoid anything that would cause me more pain in the work world:
- Speaking up
- Starting my own business
- Even reflecting on the pain
I’m sure there are many more examples but my perspective shifted quite a bit after reading Principles by Ray Dalio.
Ray is one of the wealthiest people in the world ($19 billion in 2023) from creating the world’s largest hedge fund called Bridgewater Associates.
In his book, he shares principles that have helped guide him throughout his life.
He made a compelling argument for “Pain + Reflection = Progress”
He explained that many of us are wired to avoid pain at all costs, but in the end, there is no avoiding pain.
So you can either spend your life trying to avoid the unavoidable… or you can change your relationship with pain.
He goes on to explain that pain is nothing more than a signal that you need to find solutions so that you can progress.
Changing Your Relationship with Pain
Ask friends or colleagues to define pain for you. The answers you’ll get back will vary into something like this:
- Painful (great answer Debbie in accounting!)
Almost no one will tell you things like this:
Navigation is the word I try and use for pain now after reading Ray’s book.
That’s because pain is a powerful signal and easy to recall. You might have trouble remembering if I ask you what you ate for lunch a week ago.
But if I ask you to remember a painful childhood memory, it slaps you upside the head like it happened two hours ago.
Emotional pain is extremely salient, and it can help inform and guide us on our path.
Ray says that “Pain + Reflection = Progress” but I’ve replaced it with “Pain + Reflection = Navigation”
That’s because pain acts like a compass that helps us learn from our experiences.
Take for instance my story of my boss threatening and cussing me out as a 15-year-old.
When I reflect on that pain, what I realize (now) is that I’m grateful for that moment.
That’s because if my first boss was an incredible guy who took me under his wing and made my first work experience painless… I’d be a different person today.
I realize that he planted one of the seeds that was my entrepreneurial journey.
I hated being subjected to that kind of work environment, but I realized I didn’t control the environment.
When I punched in. I punched out as the true version of myself.
I suddenly had to laugh at my manager’s corny jokes and smile when a customer was rude… all in the name of keeping a job.
I just figured everyone hated their job as much as me. But the other thing I realized as I got older is that some people don’t mind it because they prefer a rough day over having to make decisions and be in charge.
That entrepreneurial bug was in me at 15, but I just labeled it as normal feelings. If I’m being honest, I even labeled it as me being lazy or sensitive or some other negative stigma.
I wasn’t lazy… I was just fed up early on.
But after more reflection and seeing how others showed up and acted at work, I realized I was a little different.
I had a really tough time being told what to do. It took me almost two decades for that lesson to truly sink in because most of our lives are spent being told what to do, and when you don’t comply it’s because you have a problem.
You might have a problem…
… the problem might be that you’re not being honest with yourself that you’re an entrepreneur living a double life. You’re pretending to be someone else every time your alarm goes off Monday morning.
But as I reflected back on painful work memories, I started to realize that I need to be in the driver’s seat and stop complaining about someone else’s driving.
How to Change Your Relationship with Pain
My advice is to start small.
There’s a technique called Immersion Therapy for conquering your fears.
A 3rd-grade run down of this…
… if you’re terrified of dogs. Don’t conquer your fear by jumping into a kennel. Build up to your fears like this instead:
- Look at pictures of dogs in books and tell yourself you’re fine. They’re just pictures
- The next day drive slowly by a neighborhood dog and try to relax your breathing
- The next day stop in front of their house and keep your window up and breathe
- The next day stop in front of their house and crack your window an inch reminding yourself that you’re okay
- The next day roll your window down and remind yourself you can drive away
You can see how this process (with the help of a therapist) will gently lead you into petting the dog someday.
Immersion therapy is using baby steps to conquer your fears.
Try the same approach but with painful memories.
Try thinking of something painful in your life, but it’s an anthill of pain, not a mountain.
Reflect on that pain and allow it to navigate your next move. Do you need to reflect on other similar painful experiences or perhaps you need to take some action?
Is there a story you’re telling yourself because of that painful memory?
When you do the uncomfortable thing, and a positive outcome arises… reflect on how pain helped signal something was wrong and navigated you towards progress.
The more you go through that type of exercise, the more you’ll see the pain in a positive light and start to root out the issues holding you back.
As impactful as Ray’s principle has been on my life, another tidbit has profoundly impacted my exodus from the W2 work world.
That’s the Happiness Curve.
Onward and Upward!
The Happiness Curve and How It Relates to Work