The Gifts of Suffering

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”   Khalil Gibran

We live in the “happy pill” culture. Are you suffering? Simply take a few pills. Want to numb your pain? Better yet, take some uppers that artificially create euphoric states. When we see people cry, we associate those tears with a person in need of help and immediately do what we can to stop them from crying. However, crying is a natural physical and emotional release that acts as the gateway to self awareness, coping, and insights.

We are reluctant to share our pain and suffering with others (with the exception of a few people we really “let in”). Our assumption is that we will bring others down and that they are either too busy with their own lives or not interested in our troubles. However, the truth is that nothing can block our growth and development more than to hide our pain and suffering. It is through the totality of our human experiences and connections with others that we make our most significant “shifts”.

These shifts only occur through passages that are often laden with adversity, and how leaders traverse these painful passages is what separates the great from the ordinary.

Nelson Mandela frequently spoke of the wisdom and knowledge he gained in prison about his own self, and his captors, the Afrikaans, as invaluable assets to his leadership and the reinvention of the new South Africa. Through the indignities, physical pain, hard labor, and psychological torture of isolation emerged one of the greatest leaders of all time. There is no question that the incredible difference that Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has made in changing drunk driving legislation in the U.S. has been fueled by the personal tragedies of two housewives (Cindi Lamb and Candy Lightner) who lost loved ones at the hands of drunk drivers.

Pain and suffering is processed differently by people. There are those that gravitate towards resentment, close their hearts, and lose trust in others. These individuals seem to carry an entitlement mindset that is based on the expectation of lifelong happiness and fulfillment. When these expectations are not met, they seem to lose their resonance and fall into a downward spiral of negativity and accusations, and seem to require a target for blame. Needless to say, this cycle leads to further isolation and “being stuck”.

Others, such as Viktor Frankel, crafted his life vision in the Nazi concentration camp. Mandela and Martin Luther King opened themselves up to pain and suffering in order to go through “passages of learning and growth”. Cindi Lamb and Candy Lightner could have allowed their family tragedies at the hands of drunk drivers lead them to a state of permanent depression. These individuals, and others like them, pose a mantra that sees life in its totality. They understand the growth opportunity that pain afforded them, their place in history, and their obligation to others.

Many of the leaders I work with are experiencing severe emotional pain. Some have lost their families by devoting themselves to their work and feel lonely. Others are under great pressure to deliver on results and work with autocratic and demanding bosses leaving them feeling helpless and frustrated. Many are simply tired and unfulfilled.

In my work with these leaders, we go through the 4R phases:



Questions for online conversation:

  1. Share pain or adversity that you have with us
  2. Were you able to manage it? How did you manage it?
  3. What did you learn from it?
  4. What is your life like now? How did your loss, pain, or suffering create a “shift” in you

About Kaveh Naficy
Kaveh is the leader of Heidrick and Struggles executive coaching practice in North America. Kaveh focuses on working with leaders placed to make transformational and creative changes in their organizations. Kaveh has a proven record of success in harnessing the strengths of these leaders to achieve accelerated business solutions. He is able to create significant insights through reflective thinking, presence, and disciplined follow-through. Executives who have worked with Kaveh say that his strengths are his deep insights into the realities of the current and future business world, accelerated scanning of the environment and competition; creative out of the box thinking, and leveraging the collective intelligence of their teams and creating the organizational culture to support and foster the appropriate organizational design and strategies. They also point their deep trust and personal connectivity with Kaveh, his coaching approach, and style.

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