The other day, I came across an interview with Brené Brown for Inc Magazine about the role of emotional vulnerability in leadership and entrepreneurship. If you’re a business leader or entrepreneur, I recommend watching the whole video, but her words brought something specific to mind that I’d like to explore here today. Brown mentioned the need to tolerate discomfort in the business world, and I’ll add that we ALL need to tolerate discomfort at work and at home in order to find fulfillment.
The comfort canary
When I discovered this idea some years ago, I realized how much time and energy I was devoting to avoiding discomfort. At some point in my life, I developed the expectation that I could somehow purge my life of any discomfort. In fact, that was maybe one of my strongest motivators! I held the unconscious but potent belief that discomfort was bad and that experiencing discomfort meant that I was doing something wrong.
How liberating and uplifting it was to realize that discomfort is actually just a side effect of fully and actively participating in life. In fact, I realized that the more discomfort I experience, the more I know that I’m doing something important in my life. In a sense, discomfort is like the canary of personal growth. You know: the idea that miners take a canary into the mine as an early indicator of dangerous air conditions? In this case, when your canary acts up, you’re likely headed toward something important. Canaries, it turns out, are squeamish about challenging the status quo and taking risks to get what you want in life.
Chasing comfort is a full time job
Having lived in fear of discomfort for all of my life, it was such a novelty to realize that although I had been convinced that it would consume me or destroy me, discomfort is generally only mildly irritating. Not only that, but it’s much, much less of a problem than some of the techniques I had developed to avoid it! I was not fully participating in my life, and I had not clarified my own values and goals. In other words, I was so busy avoiding discomfort that I didn’t have the time or focus to pursue contentment.
I think these ideas are revolutionary! Our willingness to sit with discomfort dictates whether we’ll find success in so many areas of our lives. The next time you make a decision, no matter how small, ask yourself this question: are you moving toward something you want, or are you moving away from discomfort? If you’re avoiding discomfort, what if you challenged yourself to tolerate it and pursue your dreams instead?