“The enemy of development is pain phobia: the unwillingness to do a tiny bit of suffering. As you feel unpleasant you interrupt the continuum of awareness and you become phobic and this weakens the heart of the will.” – Bruce Lee
It took moments to put my plan into action. It took a lifetime to accept that going towards my discomfort was the best solution.
Now, I’m a believer. In times of fear and resistance, I need to sit with discomfort in order to find my way forward.
Easier said than done.
Resisting Discomfort During a Pandemic
On Wednesday March 18th, 2020, a week after coronavirus was declared a pandemic, I was sitting in my short term rental in Portland, OR. It felt like the world was going crazy, especially given how fast the news of the pandemic was changing. My anxiety level was through the roof.
As more and more restrictions were being put into place, I contemplated my future. Housesits were being cancelled. Travel to other countries was discouraged. Clients pulled back funding.
What was next for me?
I discussing my feelings and thoughts with a friend. I told him how scared I was of not making any income this year. I explained how my plans for travel and housing were now null and void. I couldn’t see the way forward.
Then, he echoed the words another friend said a few days earlier, “Why don’t you just go back to your parents’ house in New York?” Hearing this phrase a second time, I listened more intently.
I REALLY did not want to go back. Going back to upstate New York meant failure. It meant living with my parents as an almost 40 year old adult. Going back signified that I had made the wrong choices in life.
It also exposed my perceived progress. It showed me that even though I thought I was on some grand adventure, I hadn’t really gone anywhere.
Even though going back was uncomfortable, I realized that running away from this discomfort would only cause me more pain. Running away would stress my financial, physical, mental, and emotional well-being beyond what I could handle.
I needed to go towards my discomfort, to move forward. So, within moments I scheduled a flight to take me back to the current epicenter of the pandemic.
My Very Uncomfortable Journey
The journey to NY was impactful.
As I struggled with my internal discomfort about going back, there was also a great amount of external stress.
For example, my flight from Denver to New York turned around mid-flight due to NYC closing its airspace. (NOTE: airspace quickly reopened and I was able to get back only 5 hours later than planned. Thank you, universe.)
Another example was the virus itself, lurking just out of sight. I was scared to touch anything, to talk to anyone, and to sit anywhere.
As I sat on the planes and at the airport gates, I thought. I questioned my immense privilege. I questioned my morals and values. I questioned how the hell I had gotten here.
The Comfort Within the Discomfort
Yet, as I stepped out of my self imposed world of anxiety, I couldn’t help see how, despite the external factors beyond my control, I was incredibly well supported.
Every person I met along my journey into discomfort, from the cabbie in Portland, to the other travelers in the airport, to the airline personnel on the planes, were incredibly kind.
In addition, a dear friend of mine who lives two hours from Denver made herself available to pick me up if my second flight attempt to NYC failed. I even ran into my friend’s son, who I hadn’t seen in years, as he was traveling back to San Antonio from Denver.
All signs pointed towards “You are safe, Lis. You made the hard, but right, decision. This isn’t going to be easy, but the universe has your back.”
However, most of the journey I refused to accept these signs of comfort, which I now see as paving the way for me to safely sit in the discomfort of my return.
Instead I chose to focus on my fear of my future, and what this journey home “meant”. Worse, to quell this perceived fear, I used books, movies, and my own mind to numb and distract myself from the feelings of discomfort.
Why It’s So Hard For Me to Sit with Discomfort
This question isn’t difficult to answer, actually. It’s hard for me to sit with discomfort because it doesn’t FEEL good. I’ve chosen to go toward making myself feel comfortable most of my life because it just feels better.
I think one reason that sitting with discomfort doesn’t feel good, is because it involves having to accept that I am solely responsible for my life.
This means when I look at the circumstances that have brought me to where I am today I have to own that my choices were what got me “here”. And, as in the case of going back to NY, if I don’t like where I am, I can blame no one else but myself.
So you can see that as I sat with the discomfort of my responsibility, both in the house in Portland, and then on the journey back, and even still as I write to you, I had to own up to ME being the reason I am back in an uncomfortable situation. I have to OWN my differences, my individuality, and, as I’ve said before, this is really scary.
But it’s always the very best thing I can do to live my best life.
Why Going Towards Discomfort is the Best Thing
The short answer is if I go towards discomfort, I remove discomfort.
As I sat in Portland uncomfortably thinking about my trip, I saw that if I didn’t go back I would not only potentially run out of funds, but would also face some really uncertain times, and face them alone. I accepted I was not ready to chance both of these because I know I wasn’t strong enough to keep my mental and emotional well being intact. This acceptance was SO HARD.
I also saw just how unnecessary it was for me to go through even further hardships just so I didn’t have to face the discomfort of going home. Who would choose unnecessary pain in order to avoid alternate pain? At some point pain will come, Am I right?
Thus by going towards the discomfort instead of resisting it, I face the pain directly in front of me instead of piling on more pain. This allows me to banish the perceived fear in my mind. Doing so allows me to think clearly and make rational decisions that may not feel the best, but that ARE the best.
The People I Admire Sit with Discomfort
I think it’s important to note that the people I admire most adhere to this principle. Their lives may oftentimes look comfortable, but this is because they choose the path of frequent discomfort.
“Top performers feel discomfort just like everyone else, but they respond differently. They think strong. They recognize the power of the brain to overcome discomfort, and they do bold things despite how they feel.”
As the Bruce Lee quote at the top of this article points out, suffering through the discomfort is the path of the strong of will. Further, the suffering isn’t just physical, it is also being mentally and emotionally shaken to the core.
I’d wager suffering continues in those that I admire to this very day, as their root of all that is possible.
Is Going Towards Discomfort Best For All?
I’ve thought a lot about how I was able to make my decisions from a place of immense privilege and safety. Many people are not as privileged. So, I asked myself, do my words hold true across the board? Or are they true only for those that have a fall back, a support system, or some other foundation holding them up?
My answer so far is that embracing the uncomfortable option; the one that doesn’t feel good BUT that stops most of the pain and suffering we are causing ourselves in our minds, will bring some sort of relief and stability on some level.
It will be hard at first, and it will hurt along the way, but it will be the best way forward until the next opportunity comes along.
A Life of Growth is a Life of Discomfort
If I want to architect my best life, life from here on out is going to have to look and feel REALLY uncomfortable. But, I feel I’m finally ready to face that discomfort head on.
What other choice do I have?