Embrace the suck


After I graduated from high school in 2017, I fixed up my ‘79 Honda motorcycle and set out on a solo cross-country ride. I’d never been far from home on my own before, my bike had never gone more than a couple hundred miles without breaking, and I was on a shoestring budget. In other words, I had the ingredients for a great adventure.

When I left, I started a ride report on ADVRider (a large motorcycle forum). Early on, someone commented:

“If something [bad] happens, just embrace the suck. Wrap your arms around it and dance.”

I got a lot of amazing advice through that forum, but nothing stuck with me like that did. As a wrestler, I knew something about grinding through the pain, but I’d never heard it said so well, so explicitly.

/assets/images/2020/suck/wrestling.jpg (I’m on top, but I spent plenty of time on the receiving end of that move.)

Embrace. The. Suck.

My ride was an incredible experience, with all the highs and lows of any good adventure―and armed with my new mantra, I was prepared when the lows came! I didn’t spiral down the rumination drain, as I had done so many times before.

/assets/images/2020/suck/cx500_co.jpg (A high point―a sunset ride down a dirt road in Colorado.)

/assets/images/2020/suck/cx500_rain.jpg (A low point―starting the day in 45°F rain in Oregon.)

I have always spent a lot of time in my head, and I used to dwell on anything negative that was happening to me, but here’s the realization that changed that:

Thinking about how much something sucks just makes it suck more!

It’s easy to worry, then worry about being worried, then worry about being worried about being worried…on and on until the meta-worrying causes more hardship than the original reason for worry ever could. Notice when that cycle starts, squash it, and see your worry for what it really is: just that. Worry. Nothing bad, nothing unusual, and nothing to worry about.

I had plenty of chances to practice embracing difficult situations. Here’s one of many: I was starting up a long mountain pass in New Mexico when a thunderstorm rolled in. At the bottom of the pass, driving rain forced me to slow down, and as I gained elevation, it got colder and colder. By the time I passed 10,000 feet, my hands were numb, I was soaked through, and the rain looked like it might turn to snow. I kept thinking over and over about how cold I was, and how camping that night was going to suck…and then I remembered my new mindframe. I gritted my teeth, forced myself to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation, and started yelling “EMBRACE THE SUCK!!!” into my helmet. I was still cold and wet afterwards, but by accepting that, I was able to stop worrying about it and instead really experience what was going on. Even though I initially forced myself to laugh, I kept smiling for a long time afterward.

That saying turned me into a lover of type two fun. I believe that every difficult experience raises my threshold for pain just a little. Over time, that effect compounds into noticeable changes in my ability to deal with―or even enjoy―challenges that I wouldn’t have been able to withstand in the past.

This realization continually pushes me to attempt ever-longer hikes and bike rides, take on work projects that fall far outside my existing experience, and put myself in social situations that provoke anxiety…all things I used to shy away from. I no longer avoid sufferfests―I look forward to them! The strategy is simple, if not easy: lean into the discomfort.

This mantra is more relevant than ever during coronavirus. The virus is hurting everyone―some much more than others—but no one is unaffected. For those of us who are privileged enough to only be affected in ways that don’t destroy our well-being or livelihood, this is an opportunity to practice. If you can, try to acknowledge your worry, but then stop fixating on it and embrace the suck. Your situation won’t change, but how you feel about it will.