Embrace the Suck

if you quit now, your pain was for nothing

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At the time of writing this, I just got done being sick for 2 weeks. Like horrible head cold sick where my sinuses felt like hot air balloons, my ears felt like I’m under 100 feet of water, my throat felt like I just smoked 10 cigars back-to-back and I had 15 minutes of coughing my lungs up every morning.

And before that my wife and 1-year old daughter were sick. My wife with a similar variant and my daughter with a double ear infection. All of this while I’m trying to build out a new architecture and migration plan for the legacy application I work on. And I’m trying to fill 6 openings on my team due to a situation I inherited…Doing three phone screens a night, after a 10+ hour day and a sad baby in the next room is not fun. And then we had our freak March ice storm that put me a day behind on work. Needless to say, things have been stressful. I just wanted to curl up in bed and sleep for a week. But then I remembered something my old colleague said to me last year,

Embrace the suck.

He offhandedly said this to me during another stressful time – full of project deadlines and being short staffed. Same song, different tune. Ever since then I’ve kept coming back to that saying during particularly tough times. For those who might not be familiar with the phrase, it’s etymology is from the armed forces meaning stop worrying about hard, tiring or pointless tasks. Embrace the pain. Because if you quit halfway through, all of that pain would be for nothing.

It’s difficult sometimes to separate your personal and professional life. We all take home baggage from work when we’ve had a particularly hard day at the office. And we’ve all brought baggage to work when things aren’t going great at home. Your newborn woke up 5 times during the night and you only got 2 hours of sleep? Sorry, you have deadlines at the office. Your water heater broke on Sunday night? Those Monday morning meetings don’t care. Your commute is over an hour each way because of Metro “safe tracking?” That’s what you get for living in the DMV. But I’ve found solace in that saying.

Embrace the suck. Embrace the suck. Embrace the suck.

I repeat this mantra during these tough times. It helps me separate temporary frustration and pain from my long term goals. Yeah things are tough, but so what? I have running water at home, a loving family, and am gainfully employed. I’m not under investigation for my close personal relationships with Russia that could amount to light-treason…


It allows me to stop focusing on the negativity and focus on the solution. How can I fix this problem? What can I do to make my life and the lives of my colleagues and family better? Better yet, how can I be better prepared next time? When I was younger, I used to be a competitive swimmer. I’ll never forget this one workout. We were on a training trip in Florida. Basically a hell week for swimmers. And either the first or second day we were there, Coach put our set on the dry erase board: 100 x 200. This was long course, so that broke down to doing 200 meters a hundred times. The rest interval was quick too, something like 15 – 30 seconds per.

I think it took us nearly 4 hours to finish that set. Beyond the physical exhaustion was the mental. Something that might seem pretty obvious, but swimming is really, really boring. It’s not a very social sport for obvious reasons. You learn to love the black line on the bottom of the pool. I used to do a lot of mental gymnastics to entertain myself. Things like calculating the percentage complete of the total set after each lap. Or thinking about my school work or what I was going to do on the weekend. You learn to be mentally tough as your muscles and lungs are burning. But this particular set broke me. I don’t know when, maybe halfway through or a little after, I broke.

It’s pretty awkward to have your goggles fill up with tears and have to dump them each time you get to the wall.

While I definitely didn’t embrace the suck, my coach and teammates helped me pull through. (Although I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one who teared up a bit during that brutal exercise). My point is, it wasn’t the physical exercise that got to me in the end. This is the same idea with your job. It’s not the actual task that’s going to make you fail. It’s the fear, trepidation and anxiety of the situation that will get you. I find that dreading something is almost always worse than the actual thing. Except for the dentist. That’s always bad.

Address your problem head on.

Just take your hardest problem and get it over with. Embrace the suck and get it done. Do it first thing in the morning. There’s nothing quite like getting to the other side of the problem. And it’s even better if you did it as a team. You were all in it together. Overcoming your adversity made you all stronger. And afterwards, learn from your problems/mistakes. Take some time to think about how they can be avoided or mitigated in the future:

  • Can you improve your processes?
  • Was this something that could have been avoided with better communication?
  • Can you automate the boring activity?
  • Would training reduce the stress?

Embracing the suck is about how you handle your problems. How you handle your toughest situations. Do you handle it with dignity and professionalism? Or do you whine and complain? Drag your feet and avoid the problems. Every situation is a chance at improvement. After every ’embrace the suck’ type of situation, I try to do some self-reflection. The scar tissue helps us walk across the fire of the future.

But seriously, thank god for antibiotics. This article took me 3 weeks to write.

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