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Discomfort on purpose, with purpose

When we choose not to pursue a dream or goal, it’s often because we want to avoid the discomfort that comes along with that. We want to avoid the fear, the possible failure, the stress, the possible rejection.


It’s a natural reaction of our primitive brain, to avoid change and things that make us feel scared.


But fear is only protective when it is necessary. It’s damaging when it is not necessary. For example, when you need adrenaline in order to run away from an attacker or fight off an intruder, fear is necessary and protective. But when you are going to put yourself out there to world, make a change in your life, do something different, and possibly be rejected, the fear you experience is not necessary and is in fact damaging, because it keeps you from trying and growing.


Thousands of years ago, trying something new and failing meant you would probably die. Now when you try something new and “fail”, you might lose money, be rejected by someone, or have some negative emotions. 


The primitive brain hasn’t caught up yet. It doesn’t know that now most of our “failures” aren’t going to cause death. So we have to tolerate, understand, manage and expect that fear and that discomfort in order to grow. 


We have to understand that fear is going to be there. It’s just the way our primitive brain is wired. We have to expect it and learn how to manage it, but not use it as an indication that we should not go forward.



Interestingly, in our modern era, there is actually discomfort either way – There is discomfort associated with pursuing goals and dreams, there is also discomfort in NOT pursuing dreams and goals.


Staying stagnant in an unfulfilling job or un-stimulating career, for example, is not pleasant. This discomfort can present as boredom, wishing things were different, daydreaming about what you would rather do but are scared to do. We can distract ourselves from this discomfort momentarily, by over-eating, over-drinking, watching too much TV, scrolling through Instagram for hours, etc., but for many of us the discomfort and yearning for something different keeps coming back up.  


This is just a different kind of discomfort, and it’s one that doesn’t serve you. Instead of growing, innovating, learning, and surprising yourself, you are just getting by. You aren’t living life to the fullest, you aren’t seeing what you are truly capable of.



Jim Koch, founder of Samuel Adams Beer, talks about these two types of discomfort in a way that really resonated with me. In an in interview with Guy Raz on “How I Built This” Podcast, he describes the difference in life between things that are scary and things that are dangerous. Prior to starting his beer brewing company, he was in a “cushy” job, making good money with good job security, but he knew it wasn’t what he really wanted to do with his life. He didn’t find the work meaningful or fulfilling, and he wasn’t being stretched or challenged. He says he left that job because he realized it was dangerous for him to stay.


(Excuse me? How so?)


He felt it was riskier for him to stay in the “secure” job, than it was for him to leave and not know what he would do instead.


(Why?)


He states the danger/risk was that, if he stayed in the job, he would continue doing something that didn’t bring him any happiness or fulfillment, and he would get to age 65 and look back at his life and realize “Oh my god, I wasted my life.”


On the other hand, leaving his job was scary, but not dangerous. It was scary to go into the unknown, but doing so propelled him forward, and forced him to start something new and more in line with his values and desires.


He further explains the difference between dangerous and scary situations using a climbing analogy. He says, repelling off a cliff is a very scary thing to do, but you are held by a belay rope that can hold a car. So, walking off a cliff backwards is scary but actually not dangerous. Walking across a 35-degree angle snowfield on a beautiful late May afternoon under a bright blue sky, on the other hand, is not scary at all, but it’s very dangerous. Snow is melting and the water from that melted snow will lubricate a layer of ice and cause an avalanche. That’s dangerous but not scary. 



So, which kind of discomfort are you choosing in your life? The discomfort of stagnation, of living a life not aligned with your true values and intentions? Or the discomfort that comes from old wiring but that can accompany enormous growth, learning, and true living? 

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