The Power of Uncomfortable

“You will either step forward into GROWTH or you will step back into SAFETY.” – Abraham Maslow

I was 25-years old with a budding idea about becoming a professional writer and speaker. The idea was pretty new but it felt delicious and compelling. Just a crazy dream but one that wouldn’t let me go.

Our church hosted Soup Suppers at the time during Lent, a simple gathering for a meal after which a church member shared a bit of their personal story. This was to be my debut, I decided, and signed up for week #3. I was sure this would be perfect. My hair was beautifully coiffed, my best suit was freshly cleaned with an Ascot in the pocket of the red suit jacket, my jewelry, make-up and shoes were just-so. Damn, I looked good. I had written and rewritten my remarks, now neatly typed, double spaced, neatly in a folder. I had practiced several times and, by golly, I was ready! 

I don’t remember much about the Soup or the Supper but I’ll tell you what I do remember. Vividly.  The Flop Sweat! I was so nervous that the sweat was running into the waist-band of my navy blue skirt. My adorable suit jacket was now two-toned with deep red sweat stained side panels from my armpits to waist. My makeup was smearing because my face was perspiring and I had blotted it one too many times.

At the appointed time, my sweaty self wobbled up to the podium, opened my folder to my prepared remarks, took a deep breath and opened my mouth. Gack. Nothing came out. I tried again and emitted a squawk, and then an impressive dry-mouthed cluck. Apparently the previous perspiration was just a little preview because the flood gates opened and I was actually now dripping on the floor.

Twelve minutes later, I somehow finished my remarks and fled to the back of the fellowship hall, arms pinned to my sides in an attempt to cover my drenched jacket. While people were kind in their comments, I think they were perhaps just as mortified as I was. They had witnessed a train wreck. Fortunately  the one silver lining was that this was a gentle crowd – my tribe – several of whom baby-sat me as an infant. Thankfully they threw nothing, though I would not have blamed them one little bit had they heckled, tossed a roll or pitched a butter patty my way in protest.

A mentor of mine ambled over after most of the crowd left.

“So, how was that?” he asked with a gentle grin. “Still want to be a speaker and writer?” He stared intently at my red face then continued. “If you really want this, Elizabeth, are you willing to keep doing this, even badly, until you can do it well?”

I had to think about that one long and hard.

Doggone it, yes! I wanted this! Not this misery but the dream. Despite the deep discomfort and profound embarrassment, I knew that what I wanted was waiting on the other side of all of that. In that exchange, my mentor helped me form a new relationship with Uncomfortable and, twenty-seven years later, that lesson continues to inform my life.

For this reason I offer you this thought for the day: Feeling uncomfortable can be a very good thing. In fact, I believe feeling uncomfortable is an important step in the process of conscious growth.  Most people are so averse, however, to anything that requires even a whiff of uncomfortable that they stay stuck right where they are, often weeping and wailing about how miserable they are yet utterly unwilling to make a change. In fact, the complaining is far more familiar than trying something new. Sadly, choosing the Known that is comfortably uncomfortable instead of the Rich and Fertile Uncomfortable is where most people live.  Stuck.

But here’s the cool part about actively choosing Uncomfortable: We are never as close to that new ‘something’ than when we are deeply uncomfortable and choose to press forward nonetheless. Besides, uncomfortable is temporary and doesn’t last forever.

Let’s unpack ‘Uncomfortable’ further in the following four steps.

Step One – Captive    There was a time in my life when I allowed my conditioned thinking to rule my life. I didn’t question my thoughts or ideas. The latest shiny object gathered all my thinking and the good opinion of others caused me to twist into unrecognizable shapes. I was doing what I was ‘supposed’ to do, living someone else’s idea of my life. I was unhappy but that was known and familiar. My life was not my own but I knew no other way of being. My everyday conditioned thoughts created conditioned feelings created conditioned results.  I didn’t really feel fully alive but at least my life felt familiar.

Step Two – Reason    Over time I began to wonder if there might be a different way of living, perhaps even living fully in a way that felt compelling. What if I stepped out of my programmed, conditioned little world and tried something different? I gave serious thought to some new ideas about who I wanted to be and what I might create for my life. Encounters with people and books and speakers and ideas started to rattle my cage and caused me to ponder. Ideas that felt utterly audacious wouldn’t leave my thoughts. Write a book?! Become a teacher? Lead workshops and retreats? Wot?! That’s crazy. But, then again, what if…? These ideas rolled around inside me for a good long time as I continued on with my same ‘ol life, feeling my same ‘ol conditioned feelings, still creating the same  ol’ conditioned results. No action yet, just a lot of thinkin’.

Step Three – Uncomfortable   The day I started to take action toward my hopes and dreams, when I no longer simply hoped and wished, I felt both exhilarated but also afraid! And uncomfortable. Each new action took me out of my conditioned life and set up new and unfamiliar feelings. For me, unfamiliar meant uncomfortable. This is where I my impatience had caused me to abandon my dreams in the past and step back into safety, choosing the Known over the Necessary and Glorious Uncomfortable that could move me toward my dreams. Out to the edge of possible I raced, then beat a hasty retreat back to safety. Out and back, out and back. Until one day I decided to remain out there in Uncomfortable and press forward anyway.

Step Four – Freedom   Twenty-seven years ago I chose uncomfortable and it led me, over and over again, to freedom.  While I have been deeply uncomfortable at times (and even failed miserably a time or two), the gift of persistence has produced two books and a third on the way, over 600 speaking gigs and the realization of countless other wild dreams to boot. More importantly, however, against all odds, I am gratefully living that crazy dream that came to me almost three decades ago with just enough lingering flop sweat to keep me humble.

Friends, is there something waiting for you on the other side of Uncomfortable?  I encourage you to trade ‘Unfulfilled’ for a bit of Uncomfortable. Believe me, it is TOTALLY worth it. Next time you feel a rich and robust Uncomfortable, consider acknowledging it for what it is – the pathway to the possible! Stay with it, baby! Breathe into it. Breathe through it. Be uncomfortable for a while on the way forward! Honestly, so what? Hang in there. It is temporary. You’ve got this. I promise.

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