How facing pain can helps us lead with courage, connection, & wholeness.
“I’ve made it to the top. So, why do I feel numb inside?”
This was a quote from an actual client, but it’s not the first time I’ve heard it. Many successful, achieving people in our society feel this way. The cycle of achievement, destructive behavior, and numbness is especially common in executives and c-suite leaders.
Why is that?
The answer is more complex and more simple than you might think and it’s this; whether you’re trapped in this particular pattern or not, We are all addicted to something, we all have wounds, and we all need a certain level of recovery.
Given that September is National Recovery Month, let’s take a moment to reflect on this concept. For some, addictions are obvious and visible, like the abuse of alcohol or painkillers. For others, they’re more hidden things like constantly scrolling social media or struggling with an insatiable drive for achievement.
The difference between being a healthy, whole, connected leader, and feeling unhealthy, numb, and disconnected, is what we do with our struggles. The solution for wounded and messy lives is not striving for perfection. That’s a fool’s errand. The antidote is living with connection… to self, to a Higher Power, and to others.
Many high achievers think that because they’ve experienced success, it must mean they don't need anything to change in their life. They might even believe that sacrificing relationships or their personal needs is the price necessary to build their career. This is misguided thinking.
That’s why it’s so curious that these tend to be the very same people who come to me because something in their life is no longer working for them. They are successful but unhappy. They are at the top of the ladder, but numb to their pain.
But here’s the kicker: these people are actually so wounded they are hurting themselves and those around them, and often the last ones to realize it. If you’re honest with yourself, maybe this is you too.
It may come as a surprise to you, but your brokenness is no secret. The people around you know you are wounded. They see your anger. They feel your abrasiveness. They experience your coldness and distance and up-and-down behavior. They know. By the time you become aware of your own pain and how you are hurting those around you, you’re the last one to the party.
So, how does a leader begin recovery? Begin to pursue connection.
- Admit it. First you have to admit you have a problem that trying harder can’t fix. As the old adage goes, “The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.”
- Name it. The next step is going through your pain. It’s so hard, but it’s the only way forward. Many of us have spent our whole lives skirting the very thing that controls us. Our pain. Our disconnection. Our fear of being exposed as a fraud. But this avoidance and numbness is holding us back from becoming a whole and connected person.
- Do the work. You need a plan, and you need to do your work. You need a trusted guide who can help you get to know your story, and begin to process the pain in healthy, constructive ways. A therapist or a clinically-trained executive coach can help you – but you can’t do it alone.
So, do you want to live a life of meaning? Connection? Courage? If so, begin digging down into your life to find the pain points. You have to go deep before you can go farther.
If you’re to take the first step and admit there’s a problem, but you don’t feel comfortable speaking it outloud to anyone in your direct circle, you can tell me. It’s a confidential, zero risk way to finally get it(whatever it is) out of the dark.
Here’s your invitation: accept defeat. Accept that there’s a problem you can’t fix on your own. Accept that you’ve been achieving, or overworking, or putting on a show to cover up your insecurities. It’s time to pursue wholeness and health through connection. That’s the way forward.
And you are worthy of that journey.
About The Author
Karen J. Hardwick (M.div, MSW) is a clinically and spiritually trained psychotherapist-turned-leadership coach, podcast host, and speaker. She helps others awaken, courageously lead, and unlock the power of connection in their lives and at work. She and her son are surrounded by her connection warriors.