“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
Pain plays a part in our leadership as it does in most areas of our lives, though we usually don’t talk about it. It’s our common denominator.
Presented with our pain, we are given two choices.
We embrace our pain as a source of wisdom that drives us toward a greater purpose and mission in the world.
Or, we are ashamed of our pain, choosing to hide behind a mask of certainty so that it becomes the ceiling to our growth.
The effort to hide or block our struggles in the false belief that this will give us some relief or protection only makes us smaller. Embracing and leveraging our pain feels dangerous and uncomfortable but doing so brings us greater creativity, strength, and freedom.
1. We derive a source of empathy and compassion that helps us understand why people behave the way they do and respond more effectively.
2. We can offer a level of vulnerability that invites deeper connections.
3. We can endure the situation in front of us because we appreciate what we’ve had to overcome to get here.
4. We develop the inner strength to stay centered despite the chaos churning around us.
5. We can stay the course because we recognize the power in transcending our struggle.
6. We no longer consume our energy pretending everything is fine or trying to be a hero.
7. We learn that we can’t handle everything alone and seek the support and wisdom of others.
8. We gain the ability to value and learn from all of our experiences, both good and bad.
The goal isn’t to dwell on our pain but neither should we fight against ourselves trying to force it out of our experience. The endless internal struggle only makes us less available and less aware.
My intention isn’t to oversimply a complex topic. I’m not prescribing a remedy for any psychological or personal issues. I know the struggle is all too real. Much of what I write here comes from my experience. Some pain and trauma can’t be worked out without the right tools and a great deal of support.
This is simply an invitation to integrate every part of your experience into your leadership journey.
To let it inform and inspire you.
Because you are at your best when you are fully present. Pain and all.
When you bring your soul to work.