How to turn pain into progress


I have failed so many times.

And failure feels terrible.

Having my biggest show cancelled, sending toxic emails whilst overtired, showing up to a memorial service 24 hours late... my list of fails is long, and will continue to rise!

The scale of fail doesn't seem to matter.  My gut reaction is usually the same.

The good news is that I've found out how to use pain to transform my outcomes for the better!

And I now realise that my lowest moments have led to my biggest victories.

But earlier in my career, even small things could feel catastrophic.

In fact, even getting lost whilst driving left my insides churning and my mood bleak.

There often followed miserable internal conversations:

"If I can't even manage to drive my car to the airport, I must therefore be entirely useless and therefore a waste of space"

And dark feelings spiralled from a simple emotional response into a genuine crisis of confidence.  From an inability to read a sat-nav, all the way to complete self-doubt!

These challenging moments sometimes felt impossible to escape from.

But I have since learned to turn them into positive, transformative moments of change.

In 2008, Barcroft Media was a busy press agency, supplying newspapers, magazines and websites with exclusive content. It was fast, furious and often overwhelming to be working on multiple major breaking news stories.

I'd be leading from the front, driving teams across our bases in London, New York, New Delhi and Melbourne.

But whilst we were increasing our number of sales, our bank balance started to go down and down. And I couldn't understand why.

We were unable to maintain price floors for our news content. So I spent much of my time working my socks off to grow our fledgling TV production business.

I travelled the world, pitching dozens of ideas at sales conferences from Hollywood to Cannes, Sheffield to Singapore. But I really struggled to get much traction at all.

My core business was slowly dying, and my new business wouldn't grow.

I'd decided our company would become a world-famous TV producer. But TV didn't really need or want us.

And I couldn't seem to manage our finances well like I felt I should.

I got so low that I abandoned one trip to New York halfway through, and came home.

That felt like hitting rock bottom.

They say that sadness is the disappointment of unmet expectations, and amen to that.

But after a few similar episodes, an exciting pattern emerged.

When I was in agony, my body was telling me to listen.

To learn from the pain.

Soon, I realised that these horrible feelings were often helpful.

That hitting the bottom was usually followed by a significant uptick in fortunes.

I realised my pain was a visceral reaction to my subconscious feelings about a situation.

My body was telling me that this couldn't continue. That I needed to make a change. To never make the same mistake again.

I started to follow a cycle in which experiencing deep pain actually made me:

  1. Take stock
  2. Give myself a break
  3. Accept the issues I wasn't happy with
  4. Make a plan to address them
  5. Take urgent, positive action.

And the more quickly I listened to the painful feedback my body was giving me and moved out of the doom and into action, the faster I felt better.

I developed an understanding that - whilst I would have moments of extreme disappointment and sadness - they were temporary and would pass.

By dealing with the problem, I would feel empowered and alive again.

And approaching it head-on was far less problematic than I'd expected.

The one thing I knew made a huge difference was when I left the pain behind to embark on an exciting new adventure.

This was the fastest way to transport me from a dark place where everything seemed impossible, to a place full of light where anything felt possible.

In the end, to save the business I had to make a number of colleagues redundant, which I felt terrible about.  

I took a break from travelling and figured out a set of positive ways we could address the problems we faced.

And after the reset, my colleagues and I dreamt up a number of ways to move forward in a way that made sense to our client base.

The desperation I had experienced was powerful - it forced me to change for the better.

And things turned out pretty great.

We became successful TV producers and launched a YouTube channel that year which ended up as the world's most viewed news channel within five years.

So, when work makes you feel dreadful, stop and listen.

Your subconscious is helping you.

And if you can react positively, things will get better very quickly indeed.

Sam Barcroft

Sam Barcroft

Creative entrepreneur and strategist with over 30 years experience of building media businesses
Herefordshire