A long time ago, there was a king from China who was taken prisoner during a war. Every day, to remind himself of the pain of defeat, he licks some bile. Extremely bitter stuff. But the daily dose of bitterness kept his desire to recapture his kingdom burning. When he got out, that’s exactly what he and his army did.
That’s the story behind a Chinese idiom, 卧薪尝胆.
A tad extreme example, but there’s a lesson there. This is my interpretation:
We all have some kind of pain. Rather than suppress it or pretend it never happened, why not let the pain motivate us?
I’ve had some pretty dark days. Although they are over, the darkness still gnaws at me every now and then.
When I am reminded of some incident from my past, I don’t fight it. I learnt from my best friend, a psychologist, that it’s better to be mindful about our emotions rather than try to stamp them out when they creep up on us. Just let them pass.
So, I remember. Feel the shame, humiliation, anger, sadness, anguish, bitterness, etc.
Then I ask myself: do I want to suffer like that again?
The mere whiff of bile is often enough to make me double down on my efforts to succeed. I cannot stand the thought of ending up in a state of powerlessness and desperation again.
I must build a huge and safe barrier between myself and that frightful stage. That means building my resourcefulness, keeping my skills sharp, being careful about money, and staying nimble. Then I can take on any curveball life throws my way.
Thanks to my motivation to avoid a repeat of pain, I’ve empowered myself by leaps and bounds over the past year.
But be careful.
Relying too much on pain for motivation can cause a siege mentality to develop. Sometimes, I get so paranoid and sensitive about getting hurt by other people. That’s not healthy.
To shift my focus from pain, I hang around go-getters who inspire me to think big. I seek advice from people I admire and aspire to be. Challenge myself, again and again, and with each challenge cleared, I realise that my potential is bigger than I thought.
Pain can be motivating, but don’t let it define you.