BL&T No. 013: Managing Pain in the Pursuit of Progress

Personal Growth

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


"Everything about your body that is well-organized got that way because of prior experiences with stress. The strength of every bone, muscle and tendon derives from adaptations that were initiated by challenges in handling a physical load."

From "Playing with Movement" by Todd Hargrove


When I started powerlifting, I experienced pain and soreness in areas I have never felt pain before. Luckily my coach intervened before I became too concerned. He reminded me that I was not only exposing my body to increased levels of stress, but I was moving differently. After our conversation, it seemed obvious: if I expected to reach new heights, discomfort was bound to be part of the journey.

I was reminded of this concept last week as we navigated new challenges. The most notable has to do with a practice within Barrel called BSG, or Brand Support Group. BSG was formed earlier this year and handles the majority of our retainer work, which at the time was primarily website maintenance. About a month ago, we brought on a Design Director to exclusively support this effort. Let's call them Dean.

So far, BSG has been self-sufficient. Select clients work directly with BSG from the start. Others we transition to BSG at the end of an initial engagement. Most BSG-related issues have to do with this transition and gaps in process/communication when the team changes.

Excited about the potential of having Dean on board, we recently staffed BSG on a project that was unique from anything they had taken on to date. On Wednesday afternoon, Dean and I had our weekly check-in; I was surprised to find that this new project was kicking off later that day and the following Monday with the client. We expected Dean to provide direction for the project, yet he had no background on any of the deliverables or milestones. The same went for the rest of the team. This responsibility was on us.

After intense discussions and brainstorms, the project was back on track, but that was the least of our concern. How did we get here? Dean, along with the rest of the team, had not been sufficiently trained on our process. Why? BSG had been operating in a silo. Up until recently, the work had felt specific enough for BSG to have unique ways of working. We had lost sight of the need for consistency across all disciplines, regardless of the project. No wonder the transition of clients to BSG wasn’t always smooth.

When you take this whole experience at face value, it's hard to see any positive, but with proper context, it’s a step forward. Many of the problems we faced this week are problems we wouldn't be facing if we hadn't overcome past hurdles.

We established BSG to lead a particular type of work. Success has led to more opportunities and increased scope. Now we need to create the structure to support that growth. Looking back, it seems obvious: if we expect to take the business to new heights, discomfort is bound to be part of the journey.

Lesson? Pain is a natural part of the growth process. Learning to master pain management is an essential skill in making progress on our ambitions.

Thought Starter

When has pain discouraged me from pursuing my goals?

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