embracethesuck

Embrace the Suck

Embrace the Suck 700 468 Jason Lauritsen

Embrace the suck.

This is a familiar phrase for those who have served in the military. It’s a way to remind yourself or others that what you are doing is hard but important and that you need to keep going.

The difficulty and discomfort of the experience are a necessary part of the mission or process, so there’s no point in wasting energy complaining.

My oldest son, Dylan, served as a United States Marine. If you know a Marine, then you may have heard that boot camp is one of the most challenging experiences anyone can endure. It’s thirteen weeks of being pushed to your physical, mental, and emotional limits.

Dylan knew going in that it would be hard. He’d been given a lot of advice and guidance for how to best navigate the experience. Chief among that advice were those three words:

Embrace the suck.

Dylan didn’t enjoy boot camp, but he recognizes that “the suck” was a critically important part of shaping him into the Marine and the man who emerged on the other side of it. The struggle and unpleasantness shaped him in ways that will remain with him throughout his life.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on this lately.

In almost every conversation I have right now, at some point the topic turns to the uncertainty and challenges we are all facing as we try to make important decisions day to day in the face of tremendous uncertainty. There’s a lot of “suck” to go around.

We are being forced to give up, reconsider, and change so many things in our lives that it can feel pretty overwhelming. And it’s really unclear when it will end.

On my end, the middle of March represented a moment when much of the way I make my living was put on hold indefinitely. Conferences were cancelled or postponed. Corporate trainings were delayed. And given the economic turmoil since then, there was no easy way of replacing that work.

A whole lot of “suck” hit me overnight.

Out of necessity I started experimenting and doing things that I hadn’t done in the past. I’ve helped produce and host two online conferences since April. And I launched a new employee engagement online learning community.

These weren’t things that I’d intended to do this year. And all of this has been far more difficult than I expected. Like many of you, I’ve worked harder since March then I have in a long time, partly driven by anxiety about the future and partly due to the fact that so much of what I’m doing now is new to me and requires a lot of learning.

I share this because I suspect that it’s probably similar to your own story or experience. You’ve probably had to learn to work differently and support others who are doing the same. Maybe your organization’s business was disrupted like mine and you are trying to reinvent on the fly. Or maybe you work in healthcare where you face situations daily that were unthinkable only months ago.

So much “suck” is all around us. Discomfort and struggle have come to feel like the norm. This is where I keep coming back to those three words that helped Dylan get through boot camp.

Embrace the suck.

None of this is fun. I’ve not struggled and failed as much as I have recently in a long time. It doesn’t feel great. But that’s only part of the story. When I step back and try to see the bigger picture, there are a few things I keep reminding myself.

This won’t last forever.

Another piece of advice that my wife drilled into Dylan’s mind before he left for boot camp is also relevant right now. She told him that no matter how bad things got or how much he felt like he wanted to quit, to remember and repeat this phrase to yourself:

“This too shall pass.”

We are in the thick of it right now. These times are calling on everything we’ve got and everything we’ve learned along our journey to this point. We’re being pushed in ways that we’ve probably not been pushed in a long time. And while that doesn’t feel good in the moment, it is reshaping us.

It’s sort of like doing an intense full-body workout. It’s not very pleasant while it’s happening and it can be really tempting to just give up when it gets really hard. But then it’s finally over and you are relieved. And while you may be a little sore for a short time, the experience makes you better in ways you probably won’t recognize until later.

When we finally arrive at the other side of these current crazy times, we will emerge transformed. I’m betting that much of it will be for the better.

We are learning, growing, and getting stronger.

When we are faced with new challenges like those we are wrestling with today, we have no choice but to learn quickly. We ask new questions, we seek out new insights, we experiment to see what works. In other words, we develop our knowledge and skills at the pace of change because we have no other choice. I’ve had to do more focused learning in the past few months than in the past few years.

A lot of our learning is being forced upon us by external factors and changes. Some of it is also a response to our own failings. Regardless, when we learn, we grow. This push to learn and grow is like the resistance in our full-body workout. It doesn’t always feel good or comfortable, but it makes us stronger.

Progress is being made.

Just like with our workouts, it’s not always easy to see progress on a daily basis. The result of the “suck” of workouts only comes over time. I am confident that we are making some progress in ways we may not understand yet.

As I’ve talked with people over the past few months, I’ve been encouraged by the stories I’ve heard of leaders who have stepped up to communicate with their teams in ways they never have before. I’ve heard about innovative programs that have been rolled out to support employee’s well-being through the pandemic. And we’ve made a decade of progress on flexible work arrangements in just weeks.

There’s some evidence that engagement has actually improved during the pandemic. Josh Bersin highlighted this in a recent post you can read here. While this may seem strange given the historic levels of unemployment, I actually think it makes some sense. Many of the things I just mentioned align with what we know fuels engagement: communication, care about employee well-being, flexibility, etc. Plus, those who still have a job are likely to be a bit more grateful today given the current circumstances.

Despite all the discomfort, there is progress being made. And I am confident that much of this progress will be lasting–even once the virus has finally be defeated.

Embrace the suck. 

Things aren’t going to get comfortable or less uncertain in the foreseeable future. To get through it and emerge stronger, we need to lean into the discomfort and the stretch we are making to survive. Everything we experience and learn along this weird and unexpected journey will make us better and stronger in the long run.

Perhaps you and your teams can channel a bit of inspiration from those Marines who face down things far worse than this on a regular basis. Use their inspiration and strength to propel you to the other side.

I’ll meet you there. Stronger. And ready for a real vacation.

If you like this content, then you might really like my new online Engagement Leader Community. The work of engaging employees is getting harder. If you are wrestling with how to keep your employees engaged, happy, and productive during these crazy times, you will find some answers and support here. Check it out.

4 comments
  • James Duran

    It only sucks if you stop living. I’m not saying to be an anarchist but if you are afraid of death you can’t live. Embrace the suck – the situation is bad, but deal with it is not where we are at – if you have lived an entire life of privilege then maybe this sucks worse for you than others.. if you have ever struggled this isn’t so bad – what liberties are you willing to give up, what confirmation bias are you willing to give up, what amount of research are you willing to personally do and be OPEN to having your mind changed. That’s where you can get answers.

    • Jason

      Interesting take. Most people I talk to would agree that COVID sucks for varying reasons. That doesn’t mean that everything sucks or that we can’t and shouldn’t be grateful for so many other things in our lives, but failing to acknowledge when things are hard isn’t productive. When people are feeling the suck, it’s powerful to acknowledge how they feel and help them find their footing where they are so they can move forward. Telling others how they should feel is never productive. I’m glad you feel like your situation doesn’t suck, but please be careful in discounting other’s experience and feelings.

  • Steve Whiteford

    Timely article and helpful. Although embracing the suck and working with what is – is necessary – I think we also have to be cautious that embracing the suck doesn’t keep us stuck in why the suck exists in the first place. As part of dealing with what’s going on, we need to recognize and work with pulling up its roots.

    • Jason

      Agreed, Steve. There was plenty of suck to go around before the past few months put it on blast. I guess for me, embrace the suck applies mostly to the things that I cannot control which is a good distinction to note. Thank you!

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