Charles Starrett


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Culture consultant & social tech teacher/facilitator at SoulCo & Northeastern University. He/Him. Dad, Harvard and NEC alum, visual thinker, dabbler in ukulele, electronic music, 한국어, and TTRPGs.


To the pain

In The Princess Bride, Humperdink challenges Wesley to a duel “to the death,” to which Wesley counters with, “to the pain.” He then goes on to describe all the ways in which “to the pain” would be a fate worse than death until Humperdink runs away just from the thought of it.

How often do we seek a similar quick escape from the psychological pain we feel coming from our own thoughts? Delivering bad news to our manager, tackling the assignment we’re sure we’ll fail, or even just trying to slog through our inbox.

There are many pains we encounter that might teach us something if we would allow ourselves to feel them rather than running away, but “staying with the pain” may seem as fooling as it did to Humperdink.

It’s not pleasant to keep feeling the pain, but if we could, and if we looked at our thoughts that are causing that pain, what might we learn?

Why do we fear bringing bad news to our manager? Are we afraid of getting punished for it, or the position we’ll put them in, or maybe that they’ll think we’re trying to sabotage them. Looking at those fears, how might we deliver the news differently? What other data might we want to collect, or who else might we want to talk to, or could we recruit others to deliver the news together?

In tackling the assignment that feels too difficult, am I underestimating myself, or could I do something to fill a gap in my skills?

And for slogging through the inbox, what does the pain tell me about that? What is my intention in going through it, and is there a way I can do it which aligns with what matters most to me so that it feels less like a duty and more purposeful?

To ask these questions we need to stay with our pain long enough to feel the real root of the pain. What is it that is bothering us at the core, and how can we respond to that in a way that brings relief and more life to our work?

Staying with the pain takes patience and compassion for ourselves. It’s not easy, but it gets easier with practice, and the payoff of having more clarity and choice in our lives, is priceless.

23 July 2022

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