Suffering is An Opportunity for Growth

A recent conversation with my good friend and future colleague Michael Littig left me with a deeper understanding of how we’re all involved in a similar human experience. Throughout the conversation, we philosophized on how we experience suffering. Suffering is a universal experience, and when we begin to fully appreciate that, it can bring us closer together.  Michael helped shine the light on these ideas.


Now I’ll admit, I’m the first one to lambast the dillemna of an inappropriate wine pairing on the Real House Wives of Orange County. In fact, our conversation began as I shared an experience I had that morning. I had left my dead computer at the Upper East Side Apple, and while leaving I watched a woman consider returning her new computer. Why? Because it was raining, and she didn’t want to carry the box outside.

A kind Apple team member reminded her that, “Ma’am, you’ll be leaving the store anyway,” so she kept her new computer and ran to her waiting car. For the moment, it was most serious of problems. A first world problem. In the grand scheme of life, a wet plastic bag, losing cell service while on the subway, or not having the perfect workout plan probably doesn’t matter all that much. And, in the moment, we still feel like we’re suffering.


The perspective with which we approach suffering can have a substantial impact on our experience; we can embrace and carry on to what’s next, or hold ourselves still, exasperated and exaggerated. Getting hung up can totally suck. I felt it on Monday.

On an early morning bike ride, I did just that; something on my rear derailleur wasn’t working appropriately, and the chain would literally get hung up on the drive train. Pedal, pedal, pedal, CRUNCH. Feet frozen in place. Each time I would hop off the bike, tinker, then carry on. It cut my ride short, as I didn’t quite figure it out, and snapped some metal off in the process. Whoops. Was it suffering? Sure. But in the big picture; it’s nothing.

During last weekend’s EWS race in Crested Butte, Colorado, a talented rider died due to injuries sustained from a crash while racing. The EWS canceled the rest of the race to support the rider, his family, and the community. I can’t fathom the suffering of his family and community from that, and yet… breaking off a piece of metal still sucks. Still, embracing a bigger-picture perspective reminded me, “Hey, this isn’t that bad.”

Let’s look at fitness.

When we consider our fitness success, or lack-there-of, we often get hung up on what’s not working. My gym only has one squat rack. The dumbbells aren’t heavy enough. They don’t have my favorite spin bikes. I can’t watch Dr. Oz while elipticizing.

That frustration is absolutely real. That frustration is okay. Accept it. Understand it. Embrace it. But don’t you dare get hung up on it.


When we get hung up, when we get stuck, when we let our suffering hold us back and stop us, then we’re letting it win. We can’t let it win.

I’m currently reading the book, The Obstacle is The Way from Ryan Holiday. I’m only halfway through it, but it’s a book that I’d highly recommend to everyone.   Ryan weaves a modernized web of positive psychology and Stoic philosophy, helping to create a change in mindset to always find the opportunity in a situation. It’s a new practice for me, and one that is a little different from my natural skepticism. “Oh, you think you can fly? Good luck growing wings!”


Still, creating a habit of embracing opportunities for growth is important. The ability to reperspective-ize your suffering is an important skill set. If I can make up the world reperspective-ize, you can also take a moment to remember that someone else has experienced a similar suffering to yours, or that somewhere, it’s far worse for someone else. Sound cynical? I think it’s optimistic.

If the worst part of your day is that you had to eat conventionally farmed lettuce instead of organic kale, I think you’re doing pretty damn good. If you didn’t get your preferred weights because someone else picked them up, you’re doing fine. Hell, if the neighbors upstairs woke you up, you still have a roof over your head. Those situations can all feel like suffering, and with a little perspective, we can suffer a bit less.

With suffering comes opportunity.

When I realized that my bike went from sticky to less-than-pedal-able, I could have packed it in and went home. Instead, I thought, “Getting up these hills might not work, but I can still get down them.” If you’re pushing uphill rather than riding, you’re slower. I used that to my advantage, walking up some steep hills and using the extra time to picture the best path on the way down. Several runs through Sprain Ridge’s rocks gave me better drops and descents, and while not optimal, I optimized a situation that would have otherwise felt like suffering.

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So, where can you apply a similar approach?

First, next time you feel suffering, embrace it. It’s okay to feel that way. Those feelings are real. Now let’s find that opportunity to grow. To feel better.

It could be in the aisles of your local health food store, it can be in your first visit to a gym, and it can be with how you approach the technology around you. It’s entirely up to you, and I implore you to first accept how you feel, then open up to those opportunities to feel better.

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