Embrace the pain


I have a friend who has been searching for his very first job in a very competitive labor market for about 1 year. He hasn’t had much luck so far.

I rarely talk to him though we are good friends. Actually, it’s not just him. My other best friends and I talk to each other like only 3 times per year. It’s not that we don’t care. It’s that we both know that (1) we care for each other, beyond words, regardless of whether we talk to each other or not, and (2) we are both doing ok. Yet, I must confess that I’m kind of a friend who listens more than asks. So it’s barely me that starts the conversation. However, I actively vibered him the other day to ask if he was still doing ok because I was afraid that he’s not.

I still remember how anxious and hopeless it felt to experience all that, browsing lists and lists of job ads yet unable to find a single one that sounded right, making a dozen of customized resumes and cover letters, sending them to various companies, posting them on any job listing website available but the results were a dreadfully seemingly endless silence. What just made it worse was to see how my friends had already been on their journey. Both of that – my vain attempts and my friends’ successes – brought about one of the worst and most self-destructive feelings that could ever happen: self-doubt.

I didn’t ask how my close friend was feeling. I’d probably better not ask. But I can measure time. I experienced that ‘stage in career’ only around 6 months. It has been about 1 year in his case. If I were him, could I be doing ok?

Thanks to Skinner’s study, we all know that our behaviors are reinforced either positively or negatively by the consequences entailed. The mechanism of how the consequences of our behaviors ‘train’ us is just like how we train animals. We replicate a particular behavior it we get ‘carrots’. And we stop repeating it if we receive no reward (no reinforcement) or a bad result, such as failure.

Of course, there are cases when we don’t get the reward right away. However, that doesn’t mean that we should stop making effort. Everyone knows that. Yet, naturally, instinctively, unconsciously, we lessen our effort after each attempt that doesn’t yield our expected outcome.

So, keeping moving on – especially with the same level of confidence, energy, enthusiasm or any kind of positive attitude you can think of – after a series of ‘negative consequences’ is actually fighting back our natural instinct. It’s even harder than swimming against the current. It’s a real battle between the will and the emotion.

I didn’t give him any advice to avoid making him feel weak or incapable of controlling the situation himself. I just talked to him about that reinforcement theory of motivation that I learned back in school to let him know that I understood.

But if I had, I would have told him to embrace every moment of this ‘dark moment’. Good times give us the impetus to carry on yet hardly teach us anything. It’s the bad times that teach us invaluable lessons that help our entire life. It’s in the bad times that we contemplate intensely and thus find profound insights. I’m a believer in the ‘no pain, no gain’ motto. The more we hurt, the more memorable and powerful the lesson will be to us.

However, too often, when we experience pain, we are so much into finding a way out or dreaming about the future or blaming or justifying ourselves that we miss the present and the lesson that it reveals to us. Too often, we are not brave enough to simply live with the pain, so we pretend to ignore it to look at something brighter, hide away from it, or sugarcoat it.

Nothing is forever, be it good times or bad times, success or failure, confidence or doubt. That means all the pains we experience, no matter how burning they are, will pass someday. The question is what’s left for us after that? What is all that pain for? Nothing or wisdom.

I don’t want to do anything for nothing, even if that ‘anything’ might happen to be hitting rock bottom. So I choose wisdom. I will choose to embrace the pain dearly as much as I look at it brutally. I will choose to make very moment of my life count.

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