Tracee Ellis Ross wants to address how women speak about pain. And not only that, but how to progress past pain. According to the actress, “Pain is not a stopping point, but an opportunity for growth.” So she partnered with Motrin and its #WomenInProgress” campaign, and gathered a roomful of influential women to get to the nuts and bolts of what that looks like. What came was a surprisingly candid discussion and some tools that Ross uses to first own the pain, then grow from it. Here’s what we learned from her and what we think you need hear.
On why women should feel OK to talk about the pain they’re experiencing in a different way:
There’s a way that we communicate about fear, disappointment, pain and any of those kinds of “buzz words” that makes people shut down or think that they have something wrong [with them]. That’s been my experience with pain, really—like, just say emotional pain in the dating process or something of that nature. The immediate response is [to] get smaller [and say], “What I did was wrong; I shouldn’t have done that” instead of, “This is really good information for me. This is either information about something that I do or don’t want, or information about how I want to be.” Then make space for there not to be shame involved in the experience of what is a normal part of life: pain, disappointment and fear and those negative feelings.
On how social media doesn’t give the full story of progressing through pain:
Social media is extraordinary and it’s done a lot of things in my life, but it’s also promoting this idea of “I woke up like this and it’s easy to be this way,” and it’s the not the reality of what it takes to be in that experience. I know so many of the great things I’m experiencing . . . you know—this year 44, first time at the Emmys, I won a Golden Globe—things like that, are very exciting but those were not the breakthrough moments. The breakthrough moments were actually the hard moments. The breakthrough moments are the moments that actually gave me the courage to stand there on that stage winning a Golden Globe and actually be in the experience of it.
On how she allows herself to feel the pain while surrounded in abundance:
One of the things that’s really helpful for me because I have struggled with that in a major way is, I have learned that the fastest way to where I want to be is where I am. May the space between where I am and where I want to be inspire me. I often get snagged when I know that I’m experiencing pain, whatever it is taking me down—depression, bad day, disappointment, I made a mistake and I’m beating myself up about it—whatever those things are and I see where I want to be, like, I shouldn’t be upset about this—say it’s that gap. How do I not let where I think I should be undermine me and make it worse? And what I’ve discovered is actually accepting where I am moves me faster to where I want to be than telling myself I shouldn’t be where I am.
There’s the three A’s: Awareness, Acceptance, Action. Jumping from awareness right to action skips right over the acceptance space, and what is in the acceptance space is actually you being able to feel what the right action is.
On how Hillary Clinton dealt with pain of the experience of campaign and election loss influenced her:
Politics aside but from a human stance, I saw Mrs. Clinton speak recently and there was a really interesting moment. Obviously, people want to know how are you, and there was a distinction in the words that she used. She said, “It was divesting.” She didn’t say, “I was devastated.” There was a distance between her and the experience—that “it” was not “her.” Which I thought was a really great tool for me to take away. An experience happens to you, it is not you.
And then she said, “And I had a choice. I either stay in bed or I get out of bed.” If that is the question that this women in this kind of “failure, disappointment, pain…” This is a human being that on a world stage had experienced that. If that’s the question that she’s asking herself, placing herself as this human being in the midst of this experience that “it” was devastating, what a fascinating tool to take with me in my own life. To have your feelings, give yourself a day or a week or whatever it is and then go, “What’s here, and what do we do with this?” because I can either stay in bed or get out of bed.