“…the average person’s greatest fear is having to give a speech in public. Somehow this ranked even higher than death which was third on the list. So, you’re telling me that at a funeral, most people would rather be the guy in the coffin than have to stand up and give a eulogy.” –Jerry Seinfeld
When people find out that I’ve got a history in stand-up comedy, they tend to be surprised. Most people simply can’t envision themselves up on a stage, trying to make people laugh. The very idea of it is horrible, and it’s not uncommon to hear “I could never do stand-up comedy, I would rather die.”
Every now and then, I get a reaction like “that does not surprise me at all!” These reactions tend to come from people who know me well enough to know how much I value being out of my comfort zone and out of my element.
In recent years, I’ve begun to recognize the motivating role that discomfort has played in my life, whether as something I have sought or avoided. In this article, I will talk about some of the ways we can embrace discomfort as a way to foster growth in our lives.
Beyond the Cliché: Stepping out of your Comfort Zone
Stepping out of your comfort zone is about as cliché of a saying as it gets… but most clichés have some folk wisdom to offer us once we’re done rolling our eyes at them. A google search for the phrase gives us images of people standing on the edge of mountains, or jumping off screen into some deep, unknown chasm.
But stepping out of your comfort zone doesn’t have to mean going sky-diving or eating sheep eyeballs… stepping out of your comfort zone can be far less dramatic or showy.
Here are some perfectly mundane things that may be out of your comfort zone:
- Introducing yourself to someone you’ve seen before but never officially met
- Telling a loved one how you feel about something that happened a long time ago
- Calling out a friend on a bigoted or insensitive comment
- Asking a stranger for a favour
- Applying for a job in a field that’s totally new to you
- Taking a James Bond Shower
Needless to say, the list is endless and will be different for everyone. Whatever you pick, the very idea of seeking out discomfort fights against the pervasive comfort of modern existence and provides opportunities for growth.
Sitting with an Intruder: When Discomfort Shows Up Uninvited
Seeking out discomfort is all fine and dandy when it’s on your terms, but what about those times when discomfort sneaks up on you?
Maybe you’re triggered by something that’s been said, or maybe your discomfort came out of the blue, but is sitting so heavy that you feel it might crush you.
We all have habits and actions for dealing with discomfort, often without realizing that discomfort is our motivation. We may choose to leave the room, to check our phones compulsively, to take a familiar substance, to pick up our to-do list, or to do whatever else will help to remove the discomfort or remove us from the situation.
Of all the different ways we have for dealing with discomfort, we tend to overlook a very real option: simply sitting with it. Have you ever tried sitting with your discomfort? What can that look like?
Here’s an example: The other day, I had a huge and overwhelming urge to check my business’ social media pages. This would have been a perfectly reasonable thing to do had I not just done it only twenty minutes prior. Instead, I continued to hold my phone in my hand, paying it no heed, and I simply sat with this urge and tried to understand where it was coming from, what it might mean, and how I was experiencing it in my body.
I’m not going to lie, it was a very uncomfortable couple of minutes, and it would have been much easier to get up and do something else, or to open up a news app or something similar. But in the end, I was able to come away with a very positive experience of having “survived” this discomfort, which—even though it was over something completely trivial—felt very real and embodied.
Could sitting with your discomfort provide an opportunity for growth in your life?
When Situations Change Unexpectedly, Embrace Discomfort
Sometimes, a situation that we expect to be a certain way ends up being quite different. In 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey gives an example that’s stuck with me over the years, both for its simplicity and for its immense power.
We’re all familiar with the idea of no pain, no gain when it comes to exercise, but how many of us are willing to skip a perfectly good opportunity to train when something unexpected happens, such as a downpour. Covey presents this unexpected inconvenience as a fortuitous gift:
Even if it’s raining on the morning you’ve scheduled to jog, do it anyway. “Oh good, it’s raining. I get to develop my willpower as well as my body.”
Our ability to consciously develop our willpower by embracing discomfort may be one of the most underrated and underappreciated tools we have at our disposal.
Opportunities for Growth
In closing, not all discomfort is good, obviously. Sitting in a hot car with the windows up is not an opportunity for growth; it’s an opportunity for heat stroke or death. But a lot of discomfort that we experience in our lives can provide us with opportunities for growth. By sitting with discomfort, by seeking it out, and by embracing discomfort when situations change, we can learn more about ourselves and the world around us.
So, hats off to one of our biggest allies in the quest for personal growth: Discomfort, you are terrible, and we love you!
Ionatan Waisgluss is a writer, educator and web developer living in the qathet region of British Columbia. He is the founder of SquareByte.ca