Change Can Be Painful…And That Can Be a Good Thing


“A deep distress hath humanized my soul.”

William Wordsworth


In my programs on resilience and managing change, one of the principles we cover in the section on how to develop a “Change-Friendly Mindset” is:

“Life can be difficult…and that’s a good thing.”

I don’t mean that in either a flippant or sadistic way.

Let me explain.

Before sharing how this principle helps us embrace change—even change that brings pain—I ask how many in the audience have read The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck. Given that it was on the best seller’s list for years, I’m always surprised by how few hands go up.

“If you haven’t read the book, I can save you the time,” I tell them, “It starts off with ‘Life is difficult” and the next 200 or so pages basically says ‘so deal with it.’”

While the message is far deeper than that, a lot of the book challenges our misguided insistence that life should be easy for us and how we become offended when it’s not.

I then suggest to the crowd that we take Dr. Peck’s idea and go one step further.

“I think that life can be difficult…and that’s a good thing.”

To explain why, let’s talk about you.

Have you ever had the experience of thinking you had life figured out? You were doing really well, you seemed to have things figured out, and maybe you were even a little judgmental of those who didn’t seem to have their act together?

And then….life crushed you.

You lost your job.

You lost all your money.

Your spouse left you.

You developed a life-threatening illness.

Or some other life-changing crisis came along and flattened you like a frog on a highway.

What I’ve found from personal experience is that these painful times in our lives offer unbelievable opportunity to discover a kinder, more compassionate, more humble version of ourselves.

Let me give you an example.

A woman I know left her husband after 30 years of marriage. She had been unhappy for most of their marriage, but stayed because of their children. He had been very self-centered, wrapped up in his career and showed little interest in her or their children.

The attention he did give was usually critical and judgmental. Attempts to reach him, including through counseling, were repeatedly rebuffed. He was fine. She—or the counselor—just didn’t understand the demands of his career. His message to her was “This is who I am and I’m not going to change.”

When she told him she did not want to be married anymore, he was shocked and angry. For several years following their divorce, he treated her with hostility, interspersed with tight lipped laments about her unwise decision.

He still didn’t get it.

Then one day he pulled her aside and told her words to this effect:

“You know, even though I was really angry at you for divorcing me, I want to thank you now for doing that. If you hadn’t have done that, I never would have woken up. I would have gone to my grave being the same kind of person I was when the kids were growing up and never would have had the kind of relationship I have now with them. I like who I am now so much better than I did all those years. So, even though it’s been painful, I see the gift it was. Thank you for being brave enough to do that.”

This happened years ago and this woman occasionally shares how her ex-husband has blossomed into a person who has a lot of friends, who is much more considerate of others, and just plain nicer to be around.

This never would have happened if a “deep distress” had not humanized his soul.

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