Last weekend, a friend and I were discussing the current issue of book-banning in schools over a terrific meal at Yes! Thai Indeed. Our words became so passionate, as one might expect of a retired English teacher and a freelance writer, that a couple at the next table joined in. We hashed the topic out for some 20 minutes or so. What piqued my curiosity was the fact that, as I understand, many parents that support book-banning do so because some of the offensive tomes made their kids “uncomfortable.” That word set my mind a-whirring.
Just for clarity’s sake, this column is not about book-banning but about that word “uncomfortable” and why it stuck in my craw.
Remember the last time you felt uncomfortable? Perhaps one of the following scenarios applies. You were walking into a job interview. You were called to your child’s school to have a “chat” about his or her behavior with the principal. You’d just unloaded a full grocery cart and were ready to pay the cashier when you realized you’d left your wallet at home. You have a fear of heights and were being strapped into a harness for your first zipline ride. You ran into your ex and his new wife for the first time. Or you were being wheeled into surgery.
All of these are definite “yikes” moments. Some are by choice. Others are situations you’d rather not have had to experience, thankyouverymuch! True eye-rollers. Fear personified. However, if you think about it, all are opportunities for growth in one way or another. Each is totally about perception, i.e., the way you look at it. For example, if you nabbed the job, you set your sails on a new life course; if you didn’t, you may have reviewed the interview experience to determine a better presentation for next time. What might you as a parent have learned from your school visit? And more importantly, what did your child learn? Hopefully, some sort of growth resulted from that encounter. Perhaps you now put your wallet – and keys – in the same place at home all the time. I won’t continue with examples, but you get the idea.
Uncomfortable feelings can cover a lot of emotional territory – uneasy, awkward, troubled, disturbed, freaked out, embarrassed, or even verklempt (choked up by emotion or teary). All of these can bring about change and with positive guidance, either from without (a therapist or friend) or ideally, from within (your own wise counsel), can eventually result in positive outcomes.
In a 2017 TED Women talk in New Orleans, New York Times bestselling author of I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual, Luvvie Ajayi – also a comedian, activist, and culture blogger – addresses discomfort brought about by fear. Her words are wise and worth a listen.
“Fear,” she says, “has a concrete power to keep us from living our dreams…Our self-critic says, ‘You shouldn’t do this. It’ll make you uncomfortable.’” Turns out that ol’ misanthrope will suggest anything to convince you to maintain the status quo, that being comfort. Heaven forbid feeling uncomfortable. “Don’t give up because something’s hard,” Ajayi continues. “Pushing through challenges makes you grow.”
Back in the 1970’s, I had the opportunity to become the American representative for a thoroughbred horse sales company based in Ireland. Unfortunately, the job, which was a part time gem that paid well and included a yearly trip to the company’s offices in Ireland and France, came around during a time of elevated stress in my life, during which I’d developed a fear of flying. So, I white-knuckled my way uncomfortably “across the pond” in a plane whose coach class was filled with priests and nuns. Nothing traumatic would happen to a plane filled with so many Catholic religious, I thought. Okay… I prayed. And stepping onto my return flight, I noticed a bronze plaque informing all that the pope had flown in this plane and had blessed it. Once again in seemingly heavenly hands, I white-knuckled my way home. During those flights, I experienced plenty of discomfort but stepping into my fear garnered me a cool new job.
As an aside, the issue of future travel was easily resolved by a class in Aviation Awareness, during which I flew and landed a small Cessna, with an instructor manning the radio. This former white knuckler was high for a week afterwards.
No one seems clear on who first said, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” but it’s excellent advice. Possible attributions include Peter McWilliams, author of self-help bestseller How to Survive the Loss of a Love and exercise guru Jillian Michaels. Even the U.S. Navy Seals have used this saying as a motivator for years. No matter its origin, the statement rings true.
An inspiring role model, late First Lady and human rights champion Eleanor Roosevelt is fondly remembered for her courage of conviction. A favorite quote of hers hangs above my writing desk: “Do one thing every day that scares you. Those small things that make us uncomfortable help us to build courage to do the work we do.”
The more you practice doing things outside your comfort zone, the better you will get at embracing discomfort. Challenge yourself to heed this great lady’s advice. You’ll feel uncomfortable initially, but can you just imagine how your life will change if you do?
From time to time, life no doubt will make you feel uncomfortable, but that doesn’t have to stop you. Remember, feeling uncomfortable likely means you’re moving forward and exploring new territory that just might change your life for the better if you allow it to.
“Change is uncomfortable. Write that down.” This from none other than Grammy-winning Canadian pop star, Justin Bieber. He should know.