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Pain is Transformation: 3 Ways To Find Yourself In The Process

Pain is transformation and transformation is pain.

I remember working as an engineer.

Traveling the world to solve optimization problems, helping factories be more efficient.

I enjoyed watching products go from raw materials to end products. The transformation process was quite fascinating.

As the frequent flier miles racked up, I found myself asking “What time zone am I in?”, living out of my suitcase.

After long stints at factories in remote locations, I would find myself back in Austin, TX, in the middle of my bare apartment, asking:

“Is this it?”
“Is this what life is all about?”

I started experimenting.
I picked up a sketching habit to occupy my mind.
I’d drive down to the East Side of town to do improv comedy every Wednesday.
I joined a boxing gym and trained anytime I could.

I’d meet up with a few people in front of the state capital and freestyle over multiple beats in Tuesday night cyphers.

Then I started making beats.
I enjoyed transforming old sounds into new sounds.
I posted them on soundcloud.

I tucked my shirt in. Back at my desk, I’d read blogs about entrepreneurs and business owners. They’d say “just follow your passion.”

I wondered, how do you even get to know your passion?

On this eternal quest to find my passion, I didn’t realize it was all hidden in the one thing that cut across everything I did: transforming things.

Raw materials to products.
Jazz samples to hip-hop beats.
Random ideas in books to newsletters.

The thing we might all be searching for is already happening.

You and I are always transforming.

Too Much Thinking

Most people are unhappy.

Global unhappiness is at an all-time high.

This is fueled by growing inequality, isolation, and fragmented communities.

Another huge contributing factor to this is the lack of meaningful work.

When you can’t find meaning in what you do, life begins to feel meaningless.

You hop on zoom calls after zoom calls.
You don’t even go off mute.
You become a “zoombie.”

You get on X with hopes of finding salvation in a tweet. It ain’t coming.

You scroll on Linkedin to celebrate another person’s win but deep down you stew in resentment.

You get home and pop a Netflix pill. You outsource your mind to entertainment.
You do your family chores only out of a sense of duty.

In the back of your mind, Jay-Z’s song plays “What’s the meaning? What’s the meaning of life…In my lifetime”

Oh, wait. Perhaps I’m just talking about myself.

The reality is:

Meaning is not handed down to you. You cultivate meaning through the process.

You are in charge of cultivating meaning in your life.

No one is coming to save you.

4 Ways To Find Yourself

When you realize that you have to take an active role in the life-long journey of finding yourself. 

You’ll stop waiting for some external savior to infuse meaning into your life. You’ll be more tolerant of people because you’ll lower your incessant need for expectations from them

You’ll take charge in cultivating meaning, finding clarity, being more present, and understanding what drives you.

Here are 3 ways to think about finding yourself in the everyday.

1. Cultivate it

Creating meaning is the meaning of life.

What is the meaning of life? This is a question I’ve asked ever since I was 15.

It came to a head when I found myself face down in the backyard of a friend’s house, while bullets and shrapnel ricocheted around us as we said prayers.

I survived that day.

Fast forward 10 years later, on a business trip in Europe.

Walking and sightseeing in Krakow. I got stopped randomly by passport control

“Sir, what are you doing in Poland?”

I was detained for 6 hours.

Afterward, I was in a haze for months. I felt dehumanized. Held against my own will. My human dignity degraded based on my appearance.

My life themes started appearing:

I wanted to question failed institutions and change the perception of African identity.

Flow states happen when your goals, intentions, and the way you order your consciousness (your attention) are in harmony.

The more flow states, the more enjoyable life is.

The challenge is that we have many goals, and multiple intentions, and our attention is all over the place.

That’s why one of the most important tasks you have on the planet is to know thyself.

You do this through action and reflection.

That’s how you discover what Mihaly Cszketchimihayi, Author of FLOW, calls life themes.

They can be accepted or discovered. Accepted life themes that are passed on from others. These usually develop extrinsic motivation.

Discovered life themes appear through circumstances that people have lived through.

Adversity can destroy people while inspiring great action in others.

Those who use adversity to find meaning see it as a possible challenge and dedicate their actions to rectifying that for themselves and sometimes a greater community.

“Creating meaning involves bringing order to the contents of the mind by integrating one’s action into a unified flow of experiences”

~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Author of FLOW

Ask yourself “What are some of my accepted and discovered life themes?”

“What adversity have you overcome?”

Write about them.

Answers to these questions can illuminate your path of transformation.

2. Get some heart 

To persevere you need one thing – heart.

When I was in business school at Stanford, I wanted to be around the best.

I was recovering from an Achilles injury.

To get my strength up, I joined Connor (along with Vijay and Lingke) to work out early in the mornings.

It was another way for me to boost my physical confidence after my Achilles tear. I also wanted to learn the mindset from Connor. He was a marine and SEAL.

As we pushed out the final reps on our last set, Conor would say stuff like “Come on fellas, let’s get this win in the morning, so we can win the day”

I finished that last set like a champ.

Mornings are still my best time of the day.

Sometime last year I caught a recent podcast interview with Conor.

He talked about BUD/S – a 24-week training to develop Seal candidate’s physical and mental stamina and leadership abilities.

For those that don’t know about this training, go check it out. The last week is called: hell week.

Let’s just say – it’s tedious.

The interviewer asked about his motivation and how some people made it through to the end.

Conor discussed something very fascinating. It stuck with me since then:

“I couldn’t shake the call. Society tells you to seek comfort. Get a job. I just couldn’t shake the call…. there are some elements that you can’t measure – heart, will, spirit. Those are the ones that make it through” ~ Conor Donahue

Heart. Radical commitment.

He explained that BUDS is tough because there is no clear end. It’s unsettling to the mind not to know the full scope.

You have to tap into a different place to finish. And the crazy part about all this is that you volunteer to sign up.

So whenever it’s getting tough, there’s someone to remind you “You can just quit, nobody asked you to do this.”

The day-to-day is not as extreme as BUDS but relevant.

Most of us don’t know the end goal and we are on a path that we chose.

As you order your mind, you have to tap into your heart too.

What are you radically committed to that you’d do regardless?

“We live in a world with a lack of commitment. And we’re told that is good. It’s good to have options. Play it safe…My heart is made to go all-in”

~ Conor Donahue, on Conversations with Jacki & Bobby Podcast

Take action. You have to go through the experience to find out.

Keep going. Keep running….

3. Pain is part of the game

…But you can’t run away from yourself. 

That’s how the chorus of one of my favorite Bob Marley songs, “Running Away,” ends.

I remember this song as I read a chapter from Dopamine Nation: pain is part of life.

Have we become addicted to running away from ourselves?

The reason we are miserable is because we spend so much time trying to avoid misery.

In a time of economic wealth, technological advancements, and higher life expectancy, Americans and citizens of other wealthy countries have described feeling more pain.

The routine is to prescribe feel-good drugs to numb the pain.

Instead of pills perhaps more self-care is needed.

Digital pain is another form. Quick to grab our phones to entertain us

We have unlimited options to distract ourselves from ourselves.

“We’re all running from pain. Some of us take pills. Some of us couch surf while binge-watching Netflix. Some of us read romance novels. We’ll do almost anything to distract ourselves. Yet all this trying to insulate ourselves from pain seems only to have made our pain worse” 

~ Anna Lembke, Author of Dopamine Nation

Stop distracting yourself from pain. It is part of the human process.

Final thoughts

Transformation can be painful. It means letting go of the past and accepting the new. Shattering the old patterns of certainty to find the joy in embracing the uncertain.

Discover your life themes, connect with your heart, and don’t run away from the pain – it’s part of the process.

Use writing as a tool to reflect and act.

Go transform.

Who is Nifemi?

Hey I’m Nifemi of NapoRepublic

I help busy people fit in a creative practice to bring to bring order to their reality and help them live a more meaningful life through writing and reflection.

Sculpt your story

Know thyself, build a second brain, and unleash your creativity with writing. All in one journaling, note-taking, and dots-connection method that fits into your busy life.