Dismantling the myth “I have to be miserable to grow”

Dismantling the myth “I have to be miserable to grow”

Podcast Ep.15 (1).jpg

Is it true that misery fuels success?

Where does the myth come from and how does it impact the lives of people we love?

Why do we compare our success to other people’s shiny outsides?

What does Joy and Meaning have anything to do with negotiation success?

Find out and hear my personal story in this episode.

Full Episode Transcript: 

Hello! Welcome to the fifteenth episode of Born to Thrive with Jamie Lee. I am your host, Jamie Lee. I work as a leadership and negotiation coach. I believe that we are all born to thrive. And I also believe that negotiation skills are leadership skills.

I have a coach. I’m a coach who has a coach. My coach challenged me to do a podcast on a myth that I clung to for about 36 years, and that myth is that I have to be miserable to grow. Or that misery is the ingredient to success.

I looked up the word misery, and basically, it’s distress or tension. Stress in the mind and body.

I like that definition because when I’m miserable I have mental pain. I want to clarify, it’s a dirty kind of mental pain. Not the clean kind. The clean kind is when you actually do hurt, and you physically are hurt or there’s a really good reason for you to be in pain. Like something tragic happened. Somebody you know and love died. That’s clean pain, to be sad, to experience mental pain.

But misery, I think, is dirty pain, is the kind of pain you generate in your mind by telling stories about who you are and what it means to you in a negative way. This creates dissonance in the body. Dissonance as opposed to resonance.

Resonance, you feel calm, peace, connected, engaged. Dissonance, you feel disjointed. You feel disconnected, and you feel it in the pit of your stomach. Well, I do. You might feel it elsewhere. I also feel it in a tightness inside my throat or stiffness in my neck. It’s a physical sensation. It’s a very subtle thing, but you feel it from the inside out.

So that’s my definition of misery: it’s dirty mental pain and physical pain that is linked to mental pain. Dissonance.

I think it’s a myth that you have to be miserable to grow and succeed or that misery is a key ingredient to being successful, to thriving. You don’t need to be miserable to thrive is what I’ve come to realize.

The belief that I have to be miserable to grow has been drilled into my head from a very young age. I was born in South Korea and, to give you an example of how this belief manifests in South Korea, they have this incredible life or death intensity when it comes to education, because you have to get educated and pass these really, really rigorous entrance exams to get into a good college and then to get into an elite company. Otherwise, it’s like, “Oh, do you really matter?”

They have that mentality. I don’t, luckily.

To give you an example of how intense that is, they send these very young children from when they are in elementary school to go to school, be diligent, pay attention and then after school go to cram schools. Multiple cram schools each night to learn foreign languages, to become a virtuoso pianist or a violinist, to become these young geniuses so that they can succeed in the world.

So, basically, the mentality is that you have to be number one at all costs. And that cost is pretty expensive because they have one of the highest death rates by suicide. Even very young people. It makes me feel sad when I consider that.

I, luckily, did not have to go to multiple cram schools after school, but I did come from that culture, and my parents did work incredibly hard.

Let me tell you about my father.

I’ve talked about my mother many, many times, so it’s time to talk about my dad.

When I was in the sixth grade, I was assigned this interview project where you interview your family and you ask them questions and you produce this report. So, I asked my father to describe himself, and he said that he is a jolly man.

Well, he used the Korean word and then I translated it, and the translated word was “jolly.”

I couldn’t believe it. It created a lot of dissonance because it didn’t make sense that my father was jolly. Because for me, when I was growing up, I just saw him go to work. Every day.

My parents ran a gift shop for several years in Queens before they split up, and they worked 12-hour days, including commute, for 364 days out of the year, and they did that for about six years when I was growing up. They were always going to work, or at work, or grumpy, so for me to hear from my father that he thinks of himself as jolly, I was like…

What?! That doesn’t sound right.

Because to me, I saw from his actions that he believed in the myth that he has to be miserable and work himself to illness, which he did. He worked until both of his kidneys failed.

He really did that, so he showed me that this myth is not true.

And I’m grateful for that lesson, I really am.

Another time I experienced this myth and lived it was just a few years ago. The last full-time job I had was at a promising tech startup here in New York City, and I worked for one of these wunderkind startup guys. He would be like the entrepreneur guy’s guy.

This person had an ivy league degree. He used to be a football player, so he was tall, broad-shouldered, barrel-chested, blonde, blue-eyed. He used to be an investment banker, so he knew all of the Excel spreadsheets, and would put together all these really intricate models that worked and impressed venture capitalists. So, he was the entrepreneur, tech startup, male wunderkind, and he used to be an investment banker and then he became a tech startup executive at like, age 26.

I found myself comparing myself to this person, to my boss, and feeling not so great about it because I realized,

“Oh my God, I have to be better than that.

I have to be him, and then I have to be better at being him in order for me to get ahead.”

That wasn’t gonna fly for me.

So, when you compare yourself to other people’s outsides, or when you think that the definition of success is achieving somebody else’s measure of success, that’s when you feel that dirty pain inside.

And I certainly felt it. I felt dissonance. It was stressful. I felt like I didn’t belong. I didn’t feel motivated. I felt discouraged. I felt sorry for myself. I felt like I didn’t have a way to excel, to succeed, to thrive.

Because I was feeling this way, having these self-limiting thoughts, I didn’t take a lot of inspired action. Which means, I wasn’t really showing up as a leader. And because I wasn’t showing up, because I wasn’t taking action, there were no really impressive results. I wasn’t generating the kind of results that I know that I am capable of, that I am uniquely capable of.

Why? Because I was comparing myself to some other dude. Some dude who’s so different from me.

But, how often do we do that? All the time! I still sometimes do it.

So, the myth is I have to be miserable to grow, and from doing a lot of self-work - I study the work of Byron Katie, I study the self-coaching model by Brooke Castillo - what I’ve learned is that I have control over my thoughts.

And that these thoughts generate feelings.

And then the feelings generate action.

And then these actions generate results.

So, again, it’s thoughts, feelings, action, results.

And often the stressful thoughts that you have, these myths that you have, you just flip them around. You just do a turnaround as Byron Katie calls them, and sometimes that can be truer than the myth that you are believing and the myth that is causing misery.

To give you an example, the myth is I have to miserable to grow, and what I have found to be truer is that I have to experience joy to grow. That my joy propels my growth. And that, in fact, my misery prevents me from growing.

I’m going to talk about positive psychology for a quick minute and see how that connects to negotiation and leadership because that’s what I teach. In the field of positive psychology, they talk about the PERMA model, and PERMA stands for:

Positive Emotion





I find that really fascinating because I can see how each element of this PERMA model can help you negotiate and lead with success.

With joy, the Positive Emotion:

Are you optimistic about the future?

Can you generate positive emotion in the negotiation conversation?

Can you strike an optimistic tone when you talk about your value and what you have to offer the other side?

That is a surefire way to negotiate confidently, with power, and make people happy, too. It’s not all about making people happy, but if you can generate that positive emotion and really convey it effectively, I think that will give you power.

Engagement: In the PERMA model, engagement is really about flow.

Are you in the flow?

In other words, are you present?

Are you engaged in the conversation, and are you present with your counterpart?

And if you are, you’re listening.

And if you’re listening, you’re getting through.

And if you’re getting through, you get to agreement.

So, I think engagement is also a key ingredient of negotiation success.

The third element is Relationship, and of course, relationships are paramount in negotiation as well as leadership. You want to create positive relationships. You want to create an alliance with the people you are engaged with. Especially in a negotiation.

You have a relationship with the people you are negotiating with. Do you want it to be one where you feel like you are connected and your interests are aligned or do you want to feel, do you want them to feel that you are adversaries? That all you care about is getting your piece of the pie. That’s up to you.

Meaning: What is your purpose?

I read that another definition of purpose is long-lasting happiness.

If you are clear on your values, on your purpose, what is really important to you, what is the bigger why that motivates you to engage in this conversation - if you are clear on that, if you are engaged with purpose, you will find meaning in the conversation. And when you find meaning in the conversation, instead of feeling distress and anxiety, maybe you will feel rejuvenated.

Maybe you will feel energized. For having a negotiation conversation. Can you imagine that?

Achievement: Achievement is about having goals. It’s about being ambitious, and I love that.

I think the more ambitious you are, the more you stretch yourself, and the more you try to make accomplishments happen in your life, the more you will muster the courage to have brave conversations. And the more achievements you have, the more confident you will feel, so it’s like a benevolent or positive cycle.

So, again I have to say that it’s not true that you have to be miserable to grow so that you can succeed. You also don’t have to be miserable to negotiate with success. I love that I’ve been able to make this connection, and that I hope you will also make that connection for yourself, and that you thrive on your own terms. Thank you!


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