Humans are programmed to avoid pain and gain pleasure. What if pain is the very thing we need to grow beyond the challenges that hold us back?
I go through a lot of different pain. I just never show it — Roddy Ricch
25-Year-Old Washout Jazz Singer
I recently watched the movie “Respect” based on the life of Aretha Franklin. She dealt with the struggle of motherhood from 12-years-old. The movie suggests her first child was the result of a rape. The truth is still unknown.
Singer Ray Charles says Aretha’s religious father ran the equivalent of a “sex circus.” Later in life Aretha got married to an abusive man. They ended up divorced. Then she married another man and divorced him later too. Before her death in 2018 she got engaged once more and then called it off.
Her career didn’t start off with a bang either. She spent years as a jazz singer, signed to a record company, producing music to impress anyone but herself.
Only once Aretha took full creative control did her music start to take off. She chose a white band to play on her songs. The fusion between the two created a new kind of music.
Then in the 70s she recorded an album in a church that became a huge high in her career. She had to overcome the pain, find herself, and then return to her gospel roots to grow into the sort of singer she wanted to be.
Her eyes are incredible, luminous eyes covering inexplicable pain. Her depressions could be as deep as the dark sea.
I don’t pretend to know the sources of her anguish, but anguish surrounds Aretha as surely as the glory of her musical aura — Jerry Wexler
The Drug-Fuelled World of an Odd Chef
A book about cooking in New York back in 2000 became a cult classic. Hard drugs and the culinary world hadn’t been blended together at that point. Many, like my childhood chef friend, use hard drugs to work the long hours required to keep a busy restaurant in business.
Add in a pinch of sex, a lot of racism, and the secrets of the restaurant industry (like what days not to order fish) and you have a recipe for literature chaos. Anthony Bourdain wrote this book called Kitchen Confidential. It’s a tough read that I’m not sure, because of all the racism, would be allowed to be released today.
Anthony’s journey was simple: take hard drugs (like heroin) to work long hours in New York kitchens, write a controversial book about it, and become a tv show host that travels the world and eats odd food.
Anthony found a way to take the pain from his life that he covered up with drugs and turn it into enormous growth. His eventual suicide showed that growth alone isn’t enough.
When rapid growth in life takes you so far from what is considered normal, you seek to trade in growth for an ordinary life.
The Boxing Match With The Ocean
The documentary “100 Foot Wave” depicts big wave surfing. The main character in the film gets an email one day from a lover of big waves. He’s based in Portugal and claims there is one stretch of ocean that has the biggest waves he’d ever seen. The beach doesn’t have those California vibes.
When you look out at the ocean from the sand it looks like a boxing match between two huge loch ness monsters is going down. At the top of the hill is a huge cliff face that could easily rip a human body into two. The wipeouts from each wave blend into each other and seem to never end.
We find out later in the movie that this stretch of ocean has a strange layout. There are deep sections and multiple tectonic plates that all meet each other. The result is, enormous waves that come from multiple directions to create one of the deadliest stretches of ocean anywhere in the world. To have a human anywhere in that water is plain stupid.
Big wave surfer Garrett McNamara decides to travel to Portugal and meet his fellow fan of huge waves. Somehow Garrett manages to ride a few of these waves. One session is caught on camera. It looks as though the wave behind him is as tall as the Empire State Building. The photo scores Garrett a world record and the award for riding the biggest wave of that year. It’s recorded as 70-foot high.
70 isn’t a round number. He wants to ride a 100-foot wave. The pain he goes through to do it is tremendous. Other surfers are encouraged by Garrett to come to Portugal.
Several of them nearly drown.
Riding the wave is the easy bit, thanks to the help of a jet ski. But once the wave ends in a white, foamy, wipeout, the surfer is dragged under the water for several minutes until a jet ski can come and rescue them, assuming the jet ski doesn’t capsize due to the same enormous waves.
Garrett faces several major accidents in a row after his 70-foot wave. His wife and two young kids watch in horror. By this point he’s one of the oldest surfers still competing. The pain of his injuries doesn’t stop him.
He uses that pain to fuel his growth in the sport for many more years. There is a scene towards the end where he gets to tackle the giant waves of the Portugal sea again as a 50-something-year-old. Another close call happens. Somehow he makes it out alive. By this point he no longer fears the ocean or death (this is a bug, not a feature).
Pain takes him a long way towards his goals. This time I can’t help but think pain can fuel your growth although there is a ceiling. There comes a point where the real possibility of death needs to be prioritized over growth.
Pain can help us grow beyond our setbacks. Pain is one of the best motivators there is — it has helped me go far beyond my limitations. What Anthony Bourdain and Garrett McNamara teach us is not to take it too far.
Too much growth can become a disregard for the severity of death and what that does to the ones we love after we die.