Episode 9: Embrace the Suck!

“The difference between a good race and a bad race is how you manage the (inevitable) pain” Chris “Macca” McCormack on triathlon.

In 2013 I completed my first Iron Distance triathlon.  In the lead up, and training to complete that race I started paying a lot of attention to those that had been there before me.  My coach, other triathletes that I knew and I especially started paying attention to the pro field of triathletes that graced the covers of the triathlon magazines I had started reading.  Chris “Macca” McCormack soon became one of my favourites.  In early 2013 “Macca” published an article entitled “Embrace the Suck”.  The quote above his opening line.  I think that statement moved me from the category of ‘nervous’ into a new state of sheer terror about what I was going to attempt to accomplish.   In the article he talked about his move from short distance triathlon to long course, Ironman racing.  He talks about the fact that in an Ironman the pain is inevitable.  While in short course races he would simply put his head down and push through the discomfort of that last 10 minutes of the race.  In a full Ironman the pain was more than just physical.  There was a mental fatigue that crept in as well that he had not prepared for.  He talked about the fact that no amount of physical training is going to allow you to bypass the ‘suck’, to avoid the pain.  It is something that you have to accept and embrace.  Macca is a world class triathlete.  He has won 12 Ironman races and twice was crowned Ironman World Champion in Kona, Hawaii, the holy grail of Ironman events.  Now this is a man that knows something about how to run a good race.  This is a man who knows a lot about managing pain. “The difference between a good race and a bad race is about how you manage the inevitable pain”.  A fairly self explanatory statement when you are talking about a race that consists of a 3.8KM swim, a 180KM bike and finishes with a full 42.2 KM marathon.  If you have ever done such a race you know that it does not come without some measure of pain.

Do you think the sentiment might hold equally true in our daily life?  Do you think it might apply to the world of pain and ensuing negative emotions that life throws at us from time to time?  If success in long distance triathlon depends on your ability to ‘manage the pain’ then perhaps the same holds true for the inevitable “suck” that life will sometimes throw us.  You know the stuff I’m talking about.  The external events that may or may not be under our control that manifest themselves as a stew of emotions.  Our natural instinct is to try and avoid these events in order to avoid the negative emotions that come with them.  As Macca talks about in his article, he soon realized with long distance triathlon there simply was no amount of preparation, no amount or type of training that was going to allow him to avoid the pain that comes with the grueling effort of the Ironman triathlon.  His conclusion was that rather than focusing on how to avoid it, he needed to find a way to embrace it and manage it.  “You have to start planning for pain and understand how you deal with it when it comes” Macca says.  I think this advice holds equally true for life.

There is simply no amount of life preparation, no amount of caution that you can take that will allow you to avoid pain in your life. Whether that pain is the dissolution of a relationship, a job loss, a business failure or an unfavourable medical diagnosis.  There is simply some pain in life that is truly inevitable.  Therefore the quality of our life becomes directly correlated to how well we manage that pain.  The earlier we accept and recognize that pain is unavoidable, the more effort and emphasis we can put on learning how to personally manage these emotions.  It has been my experience that when the negative emotions strike the more I fight them (and trust me I’m a fighter, so this is hard) and try to simply make them disappear, the longer they stay.  By allowing myself to recognize the emotions and say “here comes the suck, baby!” I can step outside of them and put on my scientist hat and really evaluate and analyze the thoughts and feelings that accompany them.  In doing this I circumvent the compounding effect of having the negatives snowball, build on one another and grow instead of dissipating. I am able to actually let the emotions run their course.  I can observe and I can learn. The more I can objectively do this, the more skilled I become at understanding and managing my emotions.  The result is that the duration of these negative emotions becomes shorter and shorter.

Earlier this week I delivered these thoughts as a speech at a toastmasters demonstration meeting.  Shortly after that I had the good fortune to interview a leader in our industry, a friend and someone who I truly respect, Hali Strandlund.  In our discussion during the interview Hali brought up a quote “Sometimes things fall apart so better things can fall together”.  This coupled with the sentiment of my speech really got me reflecting on where I am at in my life and how I have arrived at this place.  Three years ago this was not the case.  My personal world had fallen apart, I had components of my business that I thought were built on a solid foundation that completely disintegrated and I feared for the emotional health of my children after the dissolution of my marriage.  I was not in a good spot at all.  It would have been easy for me to drop into a freefall, downward spiral of negative thoughts and emotions.  My world was falling apart.

Fortunately I truly do believe that everything does happen for a reason.  I wholeheartedly “embraced the suck”.  Sometimes I would allow a deep sorrow to overcome me and stay home alone, savoring the feeling.  Exploring it in depth.  I made a conscious decision not to fight it but rather to let it envelop me and explore the emotions, understand how I reacted to them learning at every turn.  I “trusted the process”.  I “believed”.  I “kept my chin up” (well sometimes).  Pick a cliche, I did it.  The result today?  Today, I am at a point in my life where everything is absolutely falling together.  I am in the best physical shape of my 45 years on this planet, my business is thriving, I am surrounded by loving friends and family, my children make me proud every day and I am achieving the life of my dreams every day.

Trust me.  I know that this is not as easy as it sounds.  I know that there are times in your life that it is hard to imagine things are ever going to turn around.  But I also know this… I know that no matter what life throws at you you will get through it. I know you’ve got the strength to pull through.  If you need help ask.  If you need to be sad, be sad.  If you need to be mad, be mad.  But remember that these feelings will pass.  The next time that life throws you a lemon, the next time life kicks you in the gut, knocks you down, drags you back up again only to kick you in the teeth one more time, instead of thinking about how you could have avoided that situation .  Imagine what would happen if you made a conscious decision to step back, try and look at how you are feeling objectively and watch how you react. Imagine how your experience might be different if you embrace the emotions, explore them, learn from them.  The next time life throws you a beat down, imagine what would happen if you firmly, gladly and wholeheartedly chose to “Embrace the Suck”.


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