It was in secondary school, SS2, I think. We were in a physics class, and we were either learning cooling, conduction or something on heat, I don't remember. But I remember a question the teacher asked.
He asked, "If you pour hot water in a steel cup and in a plastic cup, which quantity of water will get cooled faster, the one in the steel cup or the one in the plastic cup?"
Now, for those who know those stainless steel cups without handles, if you ever attempted to pick one with hot water in it, you'd remember that you either flung it away, water and all, or you quickly dropped it because of the burn.
So, when the teacher asked this question, all I could see was the pain I have experienced from picking up a stainless cup filled with hot water. I assume my classmates also thought of nothing but the pain because we disappointed the teacher with our chorused answer.
If you live in Lagos Nigeria, you'd know that the traffic there is from outer space. It is so tight that the mere thought of it can cause your blood pressure to rise. So, at a time I was between jobs (isn't it interesting how we say we are between jobs instead of saying we are jobless?). Well, I was between jobs and talked to a friend about it. He showed me possibilities, some of which involved taking courses to improve my employability.
My issue was not taking the courses even though I am not really a fan of structured learning processes. I thought of the fact that after I finish the course, I would update my CV, then, I would apply for jobs relating to my recent (yet to be acquired) knowledge. Hopefully, I would get invited for interviews, and probably, get a job somewhere on the Island (we believe that's where most great jobs are).
So, my issue was not that I would have to go through that process, but that I would get a job that would find me stuck, most days, in that dreaded traffic between the Island and the mainland. Guess what, I shook my head at that option. I rejected a good idea: I focused on pain of being caught up in traffic (that's a valid pain. Believe me).
Focusing on the pain
Pain is a really fierce force, and like every of such forces, it is a two-edged sword which can make or mar. However, the urgency to do away with pain or to avoid it or even the mere remembrance of a painful experience can cause us to make wrong decisions, give wrong answers or embrace cowardice.
There is a pain for every gain, let's deal with it.
Memories of pain tend to last longer than those of pleasure, for some reason. This tendency of pain as a master means that we may lose track and miss out on great rewards and maybe our life's purpose if we focus on the pains of life.
If mothers focused on pain of childbirth, they wouldn't want more children. If entrepreneurs focused on the sleepless nights, the broke days, and the many dead ends, they wouldn't try working on another solution. If lovers focused on the past heartbreaks, they wouldn't allow themselves to get close to anyone again.
I am sure there is a mother who swore off giving birth after her first experience. I am sure there is an entrepreneur who decided that maybe that life wasn't for him or her. I am sure there is one person who got convinced that love was either a myth or for fools.
Focus on the positives
Focusing on pain breeds fear and fear gives you pressure which you can always do without. Making decisions from a place of fear is unhealthy, unsustainable and just wrong.
So, instead of getting scared because of the pain, why not focus on the rewards. Why not focus on that bonding experience you get with your children and the satisfaction of watching them grow? Why not focus on providing a solution to a problem and making some money off it? Why not get companionship as its best by loving someone and they love you back?
Focusing on rewards is concentrating on the positive aspects of life. There were challenges, there are challenges, and there will be challenges, the earlier we accept this truth, the better for us all.
Pain has its uses.
As I said earlier, we tend to remember more what we learnt through pain. Sometimes the pain is necessary to teach us a lesson worth learning. Maybe we are to learn some virtue, or we are to learn the value of whatever it is we are trying to birth, what we are trying to create or what we are trying to find.
Also, pain is a sign that something is wrong. Love is not supposed to hurt. If you are in a love relationship and the mere thought of it causes you to wince in pain, there's something wrong. A headache is a sign that you are sick.
Finally, pain is a sign that you are alive.
The dead don't feel pain.
Dead lions don't roar.
Dead skin feels no pain, no matter how intensely inflicted.
So, if you feel pain, it is either you learning something new, you are being alerted to the fact that something is wrong, or you are being reminded that you are alive. Focus on the latest knowledge, focus on what is being revealed and bask in the joy of being alive.
What is the gain to come out of this pain?
What is the endpoint of this experience?
What is this pain telling me?
The physics question
My colleagues and I shouted, "The water in the plastic cup!"
You should have seen the look of disbelief and a little anger on the teacher's face. He reminded us that the fact that the steel is metal, and so a heat conductor. This means that the heat would pass from the cup and to the atmosphere faster. On the other hand, the plastic is a heat insulator and would hold in the heat for longer.
Well, it made sense after he explained it, but because we could only think of the pain from lifting a steel cup filled with hot water, we wanted protection. The thought of a plastic cup was relieving and consoling, so we gave a wrong answer.
My friend had to paint an alternate scenario where I am paid well enough to get an apartment on the Island and won't need to travel back and forth to work or where the company has a housing arrangement which I could take advantage of. Suddenly the world seemed brighter, and the traffic was no longer a daunting setback.
I took the course.
Pain makes you afraid, and fear freezes you from doing the necessary.
Pain makes you afraid, and fear blinds you to opportunities.
Pain can distract you from the goal.
Don't focus on the pain.