The Middleman

I spent a significant portion of my life doing things to avoid emotional pain. A couple days ago, I caught a lyric from a new single by Twenty One Pilots. In their song, “Choker”, lead singer Tyler Joseph sings, “pain is just a middleman.” That is a really concise way to describe what it took me half a lifetime to discover.

We all have pain. Physical pain, mental pain, emotional pain. Sometimes our pain is a result of our choices, good or bad. Maybe we hit the weights a little hard or go an extra couple miles on our run. Maybe we don’t have good boundaries with someone who is toxic. Pain can be a choice, but it isn’t always. Pain can be inflicted on us. We could be mistreated by someone, hit by a drunk driver, or lose a loved one. There are almost as many ways for us to experience pain as there are people.

Pain has a purpose. It is not the beginning or the end, it is the middle. Pain starts with something getting broken or torn down and ends when that thing is repaired and renewed. It is the process that occurs between the beginning and end that is critical. It is what happens to us during the pain that changes us and makes us useful.

Unfortunately, we often misunderstand our pain and the pain of others. We try to make pain go away by ignoring it, medicating it, explaining and excusing it, or transferring it. When it is our pain, we are unkind to ourselves. When it is other’s pain, we can say and do the stupidest things at best and very hurtful things at worst.

Pain is the middleman. It is part of the supply chain for development. Pain moves us from broken to repaired. We must be willing to be moved, and the way is often very difficult. Also, repaired is not the same as unbroken. There will always be marks that remind us and show others that we have suffered.

Going through pain gives us the ability to help others. Sometimes, the only thing a person in pain needs to hear is “I have been where you are.” Our journey through pain equips us to walk with others on their journey. We can’t walk for them, but we can walk beside them. This is where community becomes so critical to our development. In community, we can find other people who have been where we are, and we can be that person for someone else.

As leaders, we must understand that the people we serve are often experiencing pain. We cannot fix this, but we can be empathetic and understanding. We can try to remember that a person’s response to a situation might be their response to pain, not to us. We can be vulnerable and share when we are experiencing pain to make it normal and safe for others to do it.

Organizations experience pain too. While corporate pain is different from personal pain, it has the same origin and purpose. When something in an organization is broken, there is pain. It can manifest as conflict between people, inefficiency, process failures, or other dysfunctions. Like individuals, organizations sometimes try to ignore or medicate the pain. They add rules and increasingly complex processes. They make excuses or use metrics and benchmarks to claim reasonability. They transfer the organizational pain to the people who work there.

Also, like people, organizational pain has a purpose, and its purpose is fulfilled when what is broken gets repaired. Once that occurs, the organization is better than it was before. Not the same, as those marks will always show, but better and more useful. Better, and able to help other organizations as they follow the same path.

As leaders, we must see organizational pain as a signal that something is not right. We cannot become defensive and start blame shifting. Rather, we must be willing to see how the organization needs to grow and change. If we approach our pain, personal and organizational, as an opportunity to transform ourselves and our community into a better version, then our suffering has purpose.

Kimray is a community where people are safe to acknowledge their pain and where we are willing to see organizational pain as signals for positive change. We are a community that walks together and says, “I know.” We are a community where we know pain is not the beginning or the end; it is the middle. Helping each other through that middle is how we show that we care for one another, and it is The Kimray Way.

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