essay

Pain can be good

In the city finals course during an episode of American Ninja Warriors last year, Jessie Graff was trying to finish the course but was exhausted and didn’t have the strength to finish. She fell, knowing she had reached her limit. But throughout it all, she was smiling. When asked about it during the interview after the run, she said that she was smiling because she knew she was getting stronger.

I have remembered that for a while. I tend to avoid pain–a lot of us do. But lots of good things in life cause us pain, whether it’s the physical pain of exercise, the anxiety of talking to new people, or the frustration of trying a new skill. Often, the things we value cause us a a lot of pain too: I value my children and love them a lot, so when they are crying or struggling, it makes me hurt too because I want them to be happy.

There are two lessons in all of this:

  1. Often, we have pain because we are doing something difficult. And since we aren’t as strong as we want to be, it hurts. But if we persist and hang in there, we will become stronger. Pain can be good because it means we are stretching ourselves to do better. Instead of getting frustrated and just always doing what we are already good at, it’s better to push ourselves–it will hurt, but it’s worth it.
  2. The things that we value can cause us a lot of pain because we value them so much. This pain can cause us to do a lot of stupid stuff when we try to avoid it–like getting angry at our children when they are crying. We really want them to be happy–that’s why their crying is bothering us in the first place. But when we misinterpret our pain and forget what we actually value, we end up hurting the things that we love the most. A better way is knowing that the pain is okay and that avoiding the pain isn’t the answer–remembering what we love and value is.

Avoiding pain can be incredibly damaging. Now, sometimes we have pain that tells us we need to change our actions–like when we are injured, or we feel guilt. But it’s not like good choices lead to comfort and bad choices lead to pain. Sometimes, really good choices result in a lot of pain. But they are still good choices. The easy choice can often be a very negative thing.

We should remember what we value and push ourselves to become better and better at living those values. While that can be painful, it can also bring us a great amount of joy.

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