Monday, August 26, 2013

All Rewards are Painful

Choose the path
When you got your ears pierced, did you cry?

I recently saw a little girl getting hers pierced. She was crying so much, and was so intent on not getting the second ear pierced, that her mother ended up in the common parental situation of offering different rewards in exchange for a child going through with the pain. The girl was offered an ice cream cone, a new pair of earrings, being allowed to skip swimming class, and a few other options. The little girl finally agreed, and through eyes squeezed tight and tears still rolling out, she got the second piercing. Although she was still crying a little, she was clearly relieved as she climbed out of the chair.

When I got my ears pierced, I did not cry. Not because I'm tough, but because I was convinced that it had taken all of my second-grader argumentative skills to convince my parents to allow it. I was told in advance that if I got the first ear pierced, I absolutely had to get the second ear pierced -- without an argument -- and I had to agree to this deal before being allowed to go. I wanted them pierced so much that I was not about to break my end of the deal, or possibly show that I was second guessing my decision. So I squeezed my eyes, acted tough, and after the second needle, I pushed my face into my mother's stomach for a minute, but made sure I didn't cry.

That's the thing about pain -- when we want something enough, it becomes easier to ignore the necessary pain to get to the desired result. Training for a marathon, studying for the driver's test, or going in front of the co-op board before closing on an apartment are all things we know are going to be painful when we decide to go for it, but we push through, focused on the end result. We choose to ignore the pain.

Similarly, we choose to ignore other types of pain every day.

We often choose to ignore the pain of denying ourselves something for the goal of financial or physical health. When a coworker asks if anyone would like to go to lunch, we think of our savings goals and ignore the pain of eating the boring lunch we brought. We walk or bike to work, ignoring the pain of a more difficult commute in favor of the financial and health benefits we will receive. We choose a smaller home, ignoring the pain of tight quarters for the goal of using the saved money to travel.

Alternatively, sometimes we buy that expensive purse we know we really cannot afford, and choose to ignore the financial pain it will cause in the long run with a large credit card bill or a depletion of our savings. We choose to read a book instead of going for a run, ignoring our health and the pain that it may cause. Or we ignore our credit score, also ignoring the pain of higher interest rates it may cause in the future.

When one is focused on making responsible fiscal and healthy choices, it can begin to feel like every choice is causing pain. But if we remember that there is just as much pain involved in being irresponsible, we realize that there will be pain either way -- and we're just choosing the pain that gets us to our goals, instead of the pain that hinders our achievements.

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"There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- God damn it, you've got to be kind."
-Kurt Vonnegut