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Growth is continual pain

No passage from any book I’ve read recently has struck me quite like this one.

“We all face moments when we would rather stay where we are,” John O’Leary writes in On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life. “Whether we are too injured, or it’s too late, or it’s too scary, those excuses arise because we have been trained to keep our eyes down, on the rocky soil in front of us, trying to make sure we don’t trip. We’ve got to stay safe, we think. Looking down is just practical. Don’t want to look stupid. Don’t want to fall.

“But when we are staring down at where we are,” O’Leary continues, “we can’t look ahead at where we could go. We miss the beauty of what’s possible. And we certainly can’t see the path to get there.”

It’s not a new premise. To grow, we need to stretch. We need to wander outside of our comfort zone and do things we’ve never done before.

Personal trainers call it the “principle of specificity.” The National Academy of Sports Medicine defines it this way: “Each system of the body will respond and adapt to the specific physical demands applied through a progressively challenging exercise program.”

The short version is this: A body won’t grow unless increasingly demanding forces are placed upon it. Want to get stronger? Lift slightly more than you can comfortably lift. Eventually, your body will adapt to that weight … and then you lift slightly more than that.

Put another way: Growth is continual pain.

It is also, as poet and theologian John Henry Newman wrote, “the only evidence of life.”

“The opposite is true, too,” adds O’Leary. “ Stagnation is the first step to your grave. … Real growth is often unwanted, extremely painful, and ultimately completely worth it.”

Which will it be? The status quo and an early grave?

Or continual pain … and rebirth?

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