Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

My zip lining experience in Costa Rica

It’s true. Growth happens outside of your comfort zone. For me, “the uncomfortable” started in the awkward, early teen years, moving across country after my parents’ divorce. It continued as I moved multiple times as an adult, learned to travel solo, conquered my fear of heights by zip lining in Costa Rica, started my own business, got divorced, and started a graduate degree in my late 30s... It’s been these moments of uncomfortable uncertainty that have brought stress, yes, but they’ve also offered learning opportunities of how to move through difficulty with grace and ease. These challenging, uncomfortable experiences ultimately helped build my confidence and faith that I can move through any storm life places in front of me.

Growth can truly only happen when you’re uncomfortable, if you can sit with that feeling of unease, learn to accept it, notice what lessons you can take away, and approach life with a new perspective. Not with fear that it will happen again and it will destroy you, but confidence that you will be okay, no matter what happens.

There are so many quotes related to this topic, from various athletes touting something slightly more sophisticated than “no pain, no gain,” to Aristotle suggesting that “the ideal man bears the accident of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances.” 

Life is not supposed to always be comfortable. There is value to hardship. There is value in sadness. There is value in loss. I hear many people say that they are lonely, sad, or going through a hard time after a breakup, a family death, or a major life change, and they plan to ask their family doctor for medication to cope. They don’t want to feel such pain, they want it to go away, and this is an “easy fix.” While I know that there are certain circumstances where medication is warranted, I think we are overdoing it as a society, having the mentality that if we “feel something” too much, we are supposed to dull it somehow, with medication, with alcohol, or by distracting ourselves with everything and anything so we don’t feel the pain of change and discomfort. “Keep yourself busy,” people told me, after a devastating loss last year. I didn’t keep myself busy. I sat alone. I contemplated. I cried. I grieved. Eventually, I moved through it and found peace.

 We are supposed to feel. It is how we process life and the world around us. Part of the yin and yang of our reality. Without darkness, we wouldn’t know light. Without sadness, we wouldn’t laugh or feel joy with such pleasure. Without death, how could we value life? How could we value our loved ones without the understanding that life and relationships are fragile? The pain of any loss is sending a message that we shouldn’t be trying to block out. It’s trying to teach us to treasure every moment of life, to be grateful for blessings of happiness and for blessings of pain, because that is the nature of life. There is no way to truly avoid discomfort. Even if you choose to numb yourself to the uncomfortable nature of change and pain, you are numbing your life and your potential for growth. You’re keeping yourself small, instead of exploding into a wiser version of yourself, the YOU you were meant to be.

 Buddha’s Five Remembrances come to mind:

  • I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

  • I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.

  • I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

  • All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

  • My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand. 

At first blush, these might seem gloomy and depressive. But take another look. What can you learn from each of these uncomfortable sentiments? Acceptance, self-care, self-reflection, gratitude, and thoughtfulness are just a few things that come to mind. These five statements are fact. To deny them or avoid them is to deny the nature of our existence. Do you want to live fully, or live small? 

While the Five Remembrances can be tough to swallow, it’s okay to start off one step at a time. What can you do to challenge yourself? What can you do to get comfortable with being uncomfortable? Perhaps you’re shy. You might begin by striking up a casual conversation with a stranger. Perhaps you have larger life issues to tackle but you’re not quite ready to face them. Challenge yourself in another way. Sign up for a 5k, a half marathon, a solo trek to a new place you’ve never been, tell someone the truth about something you’ve been keeping secret, volunteer at a nursing home or at a children’s hospital. What makes you uncomfortable? Safely plant yourself there and watch yourself move through it. Try again and again, as long as it takes, until you feel comfortable with something you once didn’t. Eventually you’ll be able to tackle the big things, with ease and grace.

I’ve been amazed lately at how comfortable I feel in circumstances that once made me quiver with fear. I don’t have some superhero power, even though I do own a Wonder Woman costume. I’ve just practiced looking my uncomfortable feelings in the face, shrugging my shoulders, and trudging ahead anyway, having faith that I’ll be just fine on the other side. You will be too. Give it a try.