pain zone


There’s the cone zone and the danger zone. But what about the pain zone?

Let’s be honest, no one really likes pain, at least not when it’s happening to them. Let me rephrase that, no sane person likes pain. I myself happen to have a very strong aversion to the stuff. I must be quite sane.

Pain is not fun. Pain is not enjoyable. Pain is highly unpleasant.

However, pain is a great indicator when something is wrong. Those who are unable to experience pain often end up causing themselves severe damage. They are a danger to themselves.

But what about those unwilling to experience it? It’s another sort of danger.

For many, pain is a limiter. Once they reach the threshold of pain, they stop. For others, it’s an open invitation.

After reading this post from Pressfield (who else?), I can’t stop thinking about what it means to be deep in the pain zone, and how to willingly stay there.

It’s a very short post, but in case you just can’t be bothered, here’s the gist: the difference between someone who is good and someone who is great is their capacity to go deeper into the pain zone and stay longer.

Personally, I’ve been holding this thought while doing my regular sets of pushups. Even when it’s burning and I want to collapse to the floor, I think, can I stay in the pain zone a little longer? Can I do just a few more?

Not all pain is physical. Indeed, some of the greatest pains can’t be felt in the normal sense. 

How many get stuck, unwilling to press on because their own personal pain zone is too much for them to bear? 

Does that pain zone keep you from accomplishing your goals and reaching your dreams? Does it leave you stuck in Decent-ville, right outside the threshold of Great-topia?

I invite you to feel a little bit more of that burn, to let the sting endure just a moment longer before you back down. Then, when you come back to it again, stronger than before, go just a little further. 

Is it fun? Heck no. But when you learn how to endure and you finally watch your  pain lead to progress, you’re gonna smile through the tears.


Though I often use a humorous tone in these posts and try to keep things funny (and punny), I want to take the time to look at the other, more difficult, side. You see, creativity ain't all sunshine and double rainbows. When it comes down to it, being a creative doesn’t mean life is all fun and games. It’s a struggle, a fight. There are more than a few reasons for this.

To be creative is to go against the flow, to depart from normal. Whenever you do this, you will encounter resistance, in some form or another—it may be your own inner desire to play it safe, or pressure from the community at large. A friend of mine, whose husband created and drives a Star Wars themed art car, recounted to me how some people go out of their way to insult him simply because of his car. I find it strange, but some people are highly offended by creativity. Obviously, certain expressions of creativity get people riled up (and often are intended to), but I also think there are people who find the creative very discomforting. Yet, despite all the jeers and mockery, I also know that Star Wars car has earned even more positive comments and attention. Though the negative voices shout louder, I believe the positive ones last longer.

Like all things, creativity has a price. That’s not to say you can’t be creative any time of day, but as you pursue your most meaningful creative goals, you will discover a cost. This is natural: anything of value requires value to bring it forth. It may be time, money, energy, sleep, relationships, etc. A coworker recently talked with me about how difficult it was for him to live in LA and how much he’d given up to get a job in the animation industry. At one point, he’d lost 3 jobs in a month and had serious expenses stacking up. But he also told me something amazing, the very day he was about to pack it up, head out of town and go back home, he got the job offer he’d been hoping for. He got to stay and start doing the work he’d dreamed of doing.

I think about some famous creatives like Edgar Allan Poe or Vincent van Gogh who lived very difficult lives yet produced timeless works. Perhaps their creative genius is not just in spite of, but even a result of their circumstances. Yes, creativity costs, but the greater the cost, the greater the final product.

Another hard truth about being creative is it often does not fulfill our expectations. People don’t react the way we hope they will or we may not achieve the results desired from our creative efforts. After I launched this website, I felt a certain gloom from not getting the response I’d hoped for. That’s not to say I didn’t get a good response, it just didn’t match my expectations. I quickly began to doubt my efforts, why had I even started this thing anyways? But, the amazing thing is every time I’ve felt that way, someone comes along and gives me a compliment to keep me going. I’ve always found expectations need adjusting and encouragement keeps us going.

Over the years (and even more lately) I’ve heard and seen a lot of great creative work from African Americans, many who have suffered racial injustice. Be it rap, poetry, literature or visual arts, I am often moved and inspired by how they’ve taken deep struggles along with raw, painful feelings and made something beautiful out of them. They bring light and understanding to something personal and real. Like a flower after a storm, creativity can grow out of pain. As I've seen, it can also lead to healing.

To be a creative is  to struggle, but it can also give you a voice, it can allow you to sing in a way nothing else can. Don’t, even for a moment, believe it isn’t worth your efforts.


Creatively yours,

A.P. Lambert