“Lincoln’s story confounds those who see depression as a collection of symptoms to be eliminated. But it resonates with those who see suffering as a potential catalyst of emotional growth. “What man actually needs,” the psychiatrist Victor Frankl argued,”is not a tension-less state but rather the striving and struggling of a worthwhile goal.” Many believe that psychological health comes with the relief of distress. But Frankl proposed that all people– and particularly those under some emotional weight– need a purpose that will both draw on their talents and transcend their lives. For Lincoln, this sense of purpose was indeed the key that unlocked the gates of a mental prison. This doesn’t mean his suffering went away. In fact, as his life became richer and more satisfying, his melancholy exerted a stronger pull. He now responded to that pull by tying it to his newly defined sense of purpose. From a place of trouble, he looked for meaning. He looked at imperfection and sought redemption.” ― Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
We can embrace our pain as a profound resource that enables us in our desire to lead, love, live with purpose and make a difference in the world through the people we serve.
Or we can be ashamed of our pain; hide ourselves behind a mask of certainty and in so doing disconnect from our own hearts and the hearts of others.
Leadership and pain are intertwined though we don’t often speak of it. Perhaps many of us, like Lincoln, have pursued a deeper purpose and meaning for our lives as a means of turning our pain into a form of redemption. For some of us, it is our pain that has provided the inner strength we needed to persevere and thrive in our role as leaders.
• Through our pain we can derive a deeper sense of empathy and compassion that gives us a deeper appreciation for and understanding of the way the people around us act or react to the challenges we face together.
• We bond with people in shared joy but the deepest connections are born out of shared suffering. When we are willing to let people know that we hurt too, that we feel pain, we make our hearts vulnerable and open the door for them to do the same.
• Our pain can teach us patience; the ability to stay in the tension and stay the course. It reminds us that we have overcome much and that, having survived, we can endure the situation in front of us and guide others through the difficult process of growth and change.
• As we embrace and learn to accept our pain we develop the ability to stay centered despite what the voices in our head our outside may be telling us. This ability to stay calm in the midst of the storm is of immense value when leading others through difficult times.
• Pain can be a point of focus. When we look at our pain and the inner battles we face on a daily basis we are inspired to rise above the darkness, to bring light into our lives and the lives of others. We can let it lift us to greater heights and inspire others to join us.
• Opening up to our pain and letting it serve us brings us out of the darkness and frees us to give the gift or our true selves to the world. We no longer have to spend our energy pretending everything is fine or trying to be a hero.
• Our pain keeps us humble. When we know and accept our struggles and weaknesses we are more willing to ask for and accept help. We learn that we can’t handle everything alone. We realize we are stronger, not weaker, when we let others in and work together to overcome our challenges.
• When we let our pain touch our hearts we allow our hearts to be broken. With our hearts no longer hardened we can be touched, moved, inspired, and shaped. We are ready to experience joy. We are ready to serve.
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.” – Henri Nouwen