At 5:30 A.M. I stumbled to the bathroom, jamming my pinky toe on the corner of the cabinet. The pain shot up my leg, jarring my foggy brain into full-awake mode. As I sank to the floor, a sick feeling crept over my insides. One second ago I was thinking about the day ahead, but now I only had one thought: How can I make this pain stop?
When something hurts, we want the pain to end right away. If you’ve ever suffered a break or sprain, you know it demands your full attention; the misery focuses your brain with laser acuity on the offended appendage. With my injured toe, I certainly hadn’t been thinking about it a second ago. But now, I couldn’t think of anything else.
Author Sam Chand in Leadership Pain says there can be great benefits to the pain we experience in leadership. It forms and refines us. It focuses our attention on areas that were previously ignored. It speaks loudly through the moments of misery, and if we lean into it, it can become our greatest teacher.
When I bump up against opposition, angst, failure, or anything painful in my leadership, I look for the quickest fix. Sometimes I start with a mental brush off: Just keep going, and it will go away. Sometimes I’ll call on its lazy stepsister, avoidance: It’s not that bad! Stop worrying and think about something else. Sometimes I play the blame game: That wasn’t my fault—she dropped the ball. And other times I will sink into shame: I’ve read everything I can. When am I going to learn to be a good leader?1