intentional living, value creation, resilience

Reflection: Pain Is a Vital Sign

I recently woke up in a hospital bed in pain but thankful to be alive.

Long story short, I was walking in a Target parking lot and got hit by a truck going an estimated 30-35mph. I suffered traumatic brain injury and some cuts and bruises but no broken bones. CT scans show that the bleeding in my brain is stable; the doctor says that it should heal on its own.

Again I’m grateful to be alive. It reminds me that life is too short to procrastinate. It’s too short to worry. It’s too short, at times, even to plan. If we want to make an impact, we must take deliberate action—seizing every opportunity presented. For ambitious individuals, my advice boils down to a few things:

Stop taking yourself so seriously.
Take your work seriously; your community depends on you. But don’t take yourself too seriously. In life, peaks and valleys are temporary. Your identity is rooted much deeper than being “special” or successful in a given moment.

Yes, you hold valuable perspectives informed by your particular experiences. Your combination of zip code and genetic makeup and upbringing can’t be compared. You are unique, but you are not special.

I’m not trying to put you down. I’m highlighting the fact that many people strive to be special. They stake their identities in one-upping others. They long to be the exception, to live above the rules. They enjoy the special treatment—that added distinction, however little it matters. In other words, they desire privilege. Reject these urges. Those obsessed with marginal gains seldom achieve greatness.

Focus on meeting others’ needs.
To advance in career as in life, you don’t have to be special. You just need to bring value to others.

This sounds simple. Yet often we’re held back by our fear of failure—more accurately, the fear of failure in light of our perceived successes. We’re afraid of making elementary mistakes and appearing foolish. After all, we’re certain that our peers hold us to lofty standards. We cannot, must not, risk letting them down.

Again, stop taking yourself so seriously. Chances are, you’re neither as great a success nor as poor a failure as you think. I once confided in a mentor that I felt inadequate following a promotion. I felt pressured to hit the ground running as an expert I knew I was not. Here were his words of wisdom:

“I recommend that you keep a perspective on ‘pressure.’ Are you doing anything that thousands of people haven’t done before? Probably not. Are you going to succeed or fail significantly more than others before you? Probably not. Ultimately, things are never as big a deal as we make them out to be.”

Face adversity, build resilience.
Pressure, resistance, failure, shame—these can all feel painful. But if my recent medical episode has taught me anything, it is this: Pain is a vital sign. Despite the discomfort, pain confirms that you’re alive. It means that you have another opportunity—not to make a name for yourself but to make an impact on others.

Pain is polarizing. It drives some to faith and others away. It lights a fire in some people and snuffs it out in others. It fills one group with confidence, another with fear. The former seeks out new experiences, for what have they to lose? The latter retreats into self-preservation, lest they forfeit what remains.

I hope that I can be counted among the first group. No, I won’t go skydiving or become an adrenaline junkie. But I will be more active in my personal initiatives. I will press harder against the self-doubt and impostor syndrome. I will continue to take one step at a time—only my steps will be quicker, closer together, and more deliberate, so that I’ll make meaningful progress. I invite you to join me.