It’s the same.
This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about clarity, intention, and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. Subscribe here. I am also a coach who works with sensitive people so they can stop second-guessing, make decisions confidently and live the life they’ve always dreamed of. You can learn more about working with me here.
On pain now or later.
I wrote the below on Wednesday, closed my laptop, went to sit with my grandmother, and an hour later, with me, my mother, and her longtime beloved aide Agatha by her side, she passed quietly. This newsletter is dedicated to Margaret Jeanetta Hoy Dickman.
Happy Sunday, Soothers. Thank you for all your kind words about my grandmother. We are doing well here and she seems comfortable and many days ago went into a state of unconsciousness, though she’ll wake from time to time, but she is not really there and doesn’t really see us. I have been learning a lot about the stages of dying which is giving me some comfort as I understand the natural process and stages of active dying on which she has embarked.
I’ve always been a learner and student. In times of emotional distress or confusion, I turn to books, resources, frameworks to help me cope and understand what can often feel like a heavy emotional fog without any clarity. This provides me comfort, and while I have learned to be more present for my emotions, instead of simply using learning and reading as an avoidance technique, there is still a lot of value and comfort for me in reading about the dying process and understanding what is going on.
What also gives me comfort in difficult emotional times is processing through writing and also connecting the dots between the current situations of my life and sort of philosophizing about what’s unfolding for me in a way that I think may be helpful or provide clarity to you all in whatever situations you may be navigating.
And as I was taking my walk this morning, this is what came to mind:
Now pain or later pain.
Being with my grandmother in her dying process is painful, to be sure. But her death is going to be painful anyways. So I’m choosing to be in the pain now, to honor her and help my parents. Because it’s going to be painful now, and it’s going to be painful later, and nothing will change that circumstance, so I want to make the choice that I feel is right in this moment, instead of attempting to avoid it out of hope of avoiding the pain now.
I see this belief and fear of avoiding the concept of later pain a lot in clients or people who have dreams tapping on their shoulders but they’re currently too fearful or self-doubting to begin going after them.
The most commonly heard defense for not going after something somebody wants that I hear is “I’m afraid I won’t do it and then I’ll be self-loathing and self-criticizing for not doing it.”
This is going to blow your mind.
YOU’RE ALREADY IN SELF-LOATHING AND SELF-CRITICIZING FOR NOT TRYING.
Your brain has simply tricked you into thinking the emotional pain and cost is somehow less and safer here in the not trying, than the trying.
You’re already actually having emotional pain that you’ve tricked yourself into thinking you’re avoiding now. And that it’s somehow better and safer here.
What you’ve actually convinced yourself is that trying will somehow be more painful.
But I’m here to tell you that yes, it will be painful in the trying, and the inevitable failure, and the trying again…but no more painful than what is happening right now.
If you crave a romantic relationship but fear vulnerability and rejection in the dating process, the pain of being single is the same as the pain of trying — and eventually, the pain of being a human in relationship with another human.
If you crave a new job or career but are afraid of going after new jobs or quitting your job to start your own thing, the pain of staying stuck in an unfulfilling or toxic job is the same as the pain of risking going out there.
If you’re a self-loathing person or chronic negative thinker, the pain of thinking and believing those things about yourself is the same as the pain and struggle of trying to learn to think differently about who you are and how you think.
There’s a twist to this, too.
Say you’ve moved through the stuckness and you’ve succeeded in getting the thing you want: new job, relationship, self-love. Great! But here’s another reality: when you’re “there,” stuff is also still going to suck, just in different ways.
A lot of people think that when they have the thing, their suffering will be completely resolved and they’ll never be in pain again.
I like to say to my clients, “You’re going to have now problems, and later problems. So the key isn’t to avoid trying to have problems, or pain. It’s to embrace that they exist at every stage of life and that their existence should never be the reason you don’t keep on trying.”
Now pain, later pain.
Now problems, later problems.
You’re going to be in emotional pain as a human living a human life. This is unavoidable.
So you may as well go after the things you want that WILL give you joy and brilliance and love and satisfaction and fulfillment in the process.
If you’re interested more in the stages of growth and personal transformation, and how to get from here to there, listen to this new Sunday Soother podcast ep I created with my take on how growth and change unfolds.
Dedicated to my grandmother, Margaret. She survived racism in Wyoming as a half-Chinese-American woman. She went to college and got her degree. She married the love of her life, had two children, and left her known world of small-town Wyoming to go live abroad for most of her life with her diplomat husband, creating life-long friendships and lasting impact along the way. She loved and provided for her grandchildren and cultivated strong, lasting and loving relationships with them. She lost her husband to Parkinson’s, in a painful and slow decline, and then moved away from her home in Wyoming to spend her remaining years with her daughter and son-in-law. Along the way, she had fear, she was unsure, she had now problems, and she had later problems. She had pain. And she still lived a beautiful, beautiful life.