Suffering is not a prerequisite to success
I'm writing to you from Houston, Texas on this Sunday morning.
Last night, I watched a good friend get married. As per usual at weddings, JJ and I didn't know half the people seated at our table. So, we leaned over, extended a hand, and introduced ourselves. The usual questions fly at events like these.
"Where are you from?" is usually followed by, "Nicaragua, wow!" and "What do you do down there?"
JJ's got a pretty simple answer to that: construction. I'm not quite so lucky. How do I explain what I do? This trip, I've stuck to "I host a podcast." Not very descriptive or explanatory, I know, but it's a way to dispel anyone who has no interest in actually getting to know us.
So, as we made friends with our table-mates, one of them actually asked what my podcast was about. "I speak to creative entrepreneurs," I told her. Her eyes lit up, "Really! I'm an entrepreneur!"
This is the part where I started grilling her about her business—not on the numbers or the size of it, but on how she came around to creating it and what it's really like to be a fashion designer.
She said one thing that stood out to me:
"People think I'm so successful and everything runs smoothly, but that's not how it is! This is a lot of hard work, and we're by no means perfect. I don't yet feel like I've 'made it.'"
We went on to talk about how entrepreneurship is such a rollercoaster, and it can be a somewhat traumatizing experience.
I've heard this so many times from so many different people.
And I wonder if this is how it has to be? But I know one thing for sure:
The kind of self-doubt and suffering that creatives and makers go through is NOT a prerequisite to success.
From my own experience, I know that the trauma and suffering that comes along with making something of your own is completely independent of whether or not you succeed. I've suffered with projects that failed as much as I did with projects that succeeded.
So, if suffering isn't necessary to succeed, can we eliminate it?
Sufferings big and small
Our lives are made up of suffering of all sizes.
On the news, we hear tales of big suffering: school shootings, ISIS, refugees, and more. Attrocities none of us want to truly imagine, not to mention experience.
But in our everyday lives, we do experience a series of small sufferings: snide comments, screened calls, terrifying self-doubt, and more. Things we're so ashamed of we don't even want to admit they happen.
All of these are horrors we try to forget exist, albeit on very different scales.
Carrying around all of that suffering, big and small, feels like pulling around a parachute, making every step more strained as we trudge toward what's next.
A few days ago, I came across this quote:
"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it."
— Helen Keller
I needed to hear it. My parachute was getting a little too heavy, too full of crap. I had forgotten the other side of the coin, the silver lining in all the suffering we go through.
So, to my fashion designer table-mate and to all creatives and makers out there, I say screw the self-imposed suffering. Drop it.
Got some dirt on my shoulder, could you brush it off for me?
Some examples of how to do that:
- If you're really busy, build some systems or hire someone to help you out.
- If you're scared you're making the right choices, join a mastermind group.
- If you're struggling with sales, make 5 phone calls a day—every single day.
- If you're procrastinating, set a timer and sit down to create something, anything. And don't judge the result.
There's a way out of everything you're struggling with. You may not end up where you thought you'd be, but you'll be out of the woods. Somewhere better than here, stewing in your doubt. That's for sure.
We can't eliminate all suffering—wouldn't that be grand?—but we can alleviate the kind we inflict on ourselves.
You've already made it. You're right here, right where you need to be.
Overcome the suffering. Let it go.