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Discomfort is a compass

Having lunch alone at work. Waiting on a diagnosis after a doctor’s appointment. Networking at events.

I no longer fear having to do these. (Okay, I’m a little afraid of seeing my doctor.) They’re all part of being a functional adult. But they’re only the start of a long list of things that make me feel uncomfortable. I do all I can to put them off as long as I can.

In her TED talk, Priya Parker talks about building your resistance towards discomfort. When we’re in public, our first instinct is to reach for the phone and blending in with everyone else. It’s easy. What’s hard is drawing attention to yourself and being okay with it.

Parker suggests singing — not too loudly — but loud enough to be heard. Your heart will start to pound as people zero in on you. Training yourself to get used to this feeling will build your discomfort muscles. Luckily, you don’t even have to sing in Tesco to try this experiment.

“It’s he or she who’s willing to be the most uncomfortable can rise strong.”
— Brené Brown

Discomfort is a compass. It helps you navigate why you deliberately or subconsciously avoid something.

  • Why do I get nervous at networking events? I take a long time to warm up to people and it might get awkward.
  • Why do I take so long to be myself around new people? I don’t spend much time talking to people at events.
  • Why do I want to meet other local artists and designers if it makes me nervous? I want to learn from them.

By shifting the focus towards leaning into discomfort, you stop relying on motivation. Instead, your goal is to see it through.

I’m always nervous around new people, so I prepare for the possibility of awkward moments. I speak up whenever I’m curious. Even if I all I do is ask people about themselves, I can learn a lot by listening. And it ends up being fun.

Instead conquering your biggest fears, why not start the new year confronting something that makes you uncomfortable?

The best lessons are tucked away in books

There is nothing like getting caught off-guard by a good book.

On loneliness

Ryu Murakami, or “the other Murakami” as he sometimes known, makes poignant observations of humanity in his novel Audition.

Apparently what the Japanese wanted wasn’t a better life, but more things. People were lost in infected with the concept that happiness was something outside themselves, and a new and powerful form of loneliness was born.

 

Any of these things could be yours if you were willing to sacrifice a little, and many people ended up sacrificing a lot.

 

Audition by Ryu Murakami

On intuition

Anne Lamott writes with a self-deprecating savage honesty. Bird by Bird is equal parts a writing manual and a guide to life.

When we listened to our intuition as children and then told grown-ups what we believed to be true, we were often corrected, ridiculed or punished. God forbid you should have your own opinions or perceptions better to have head lice. And you nodded because it was important to stay on the adults’ good side.

 

If you asked innocently, “Why is Mom in the bathroom crying?,” you might be told, “Mom isn’t crying; Mom has allergies.” Or if you said, “Why didn’t Dad come home last night?,” you might be told brightly, “Dad did come home last night, but then he left again very early.” So you may have gotten used to the habit of doubting the voice that was telling you quite clearly what was really going on.

 

It is essential that you get it back.

 

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

On being yourself

Alternating between autobiographical speech and whimsical short story, Jason Erik Lundberg discusses speculative fiction and what it takes to write it. This piece of advice addressed to his daughter is wonderfully sweet.

Embrace your strange, whatever that might mean. Love the things that you love, unashamedly, unreservedly, and infuse your love in the art you make.

 

Embracing Your Strange by Joseph Erik Lundberg

On happiness

Desiderata, Max Ehrmann’s gentle instructions to living life, was written in 1927 and has become truer with age.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

 

Desiderata by Max Ehrmann