I’ve come across quite a few people lately who are in the midst of making big decisions. Issues around career, family, moving, etc., seem to consume many conversations. Maybe it’s the life stages people are in (although these seem to transcend the generations), and maybe it’s just that we are sharing more with one another across various mediums of communication. In many situations, people seem to be wrestling with whether to take a path that will cause pain, or one that seems to be less formidable.
The fact that we even struggle with the decision is good. In many “fight or flight” situations, we often resort to a path of least resistance even though we know that leaving our comfort zone is what causes us to grow. I admit that I don’t always choose the righteous path of “growth” all the time; driving more when I should walk, skipping that flight of stairs when the escalator is right next to it, or ordering out when I should take a shot at a recipe in my unexplored archives. But when it comes to major life-shaping decisions, carefully considering the impact of the challenge before making the decision is always the right thing to do. As in the case of resistance training, we don’t develop strength unless we force ourselves to push against difficulty.
At an innovation conference earlier this month, I heard Nely Galan, author of the book, “Self Made” actually speak to this when she said, “Go into the pain”. Her message resonated with me as I reflected on some of the best decisions I’ve ever made, as evidenced by resultant outcomes. Forcing ourselves at those critical life junctures to “go into the pain” is indeed an opportunity to test our character and resilience, and can ultimately help us find our calling and purpose.
When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and cancer in the same month, my husband and I made the decision to move my parents into our home. Together with my sister Audrey, who lived nearby, we decided to serve as her caregivers and learn how to deal with these two devastating diseases. Cancer eventually took our mother's life, but Alzheimer’s took her away long before that day came around. Along with our families, we learned, through the help of a support group, friends, and countless other resources, how to “go into the pain” of dealing with these diseases. On a daily basis, we dealt with stresses of addressing cognitive decline and behavioral changes resulting from Alzheimer’s. Every month, we took our mother to MD Anderson in Houston to run through a battery of tests examining the efficacy of her ongoing cancer treatment. Going into the pain, we not only learned the ins and outs of caregiving, but also had the opportunity to experience some moments of pure magic and wonder afforded to us because of the choice we made. Subsequently, out of our experience, I found a calling to work with the Alzheimer's Association, and shortly after our mother passed, Audrey found herself with an opportunity to join the executive ranks at MD Anderson.
Forcing ourselves at times to tackle a challenge, address our demons, and go through discomfort is what can define us. I admit if you do it day in and day out, you might be so miserable and unhappy that no one wants to be around you. But for those decisions that might have lasting impact, it’s worth a pause to take a pulse, converse with your life’s “go-to” people, and consider pushing into the pain to see what emerges.