Dr Susan David says that “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”
She speaks and writes about the dangers of ‘toxic positivity and says that this tendency to avoid hard feelings and difficult conversations can only lead to trouble in the long run. She is not telling us to be indulgent and mope, but she is offering an interesting perspective that we can both thrive and be challenged at the same time. It has got me thinking about how we have been raised to avoid hard feelings and how admitting we feel bad is tantamount to shame. As I teacher I see it in the classroom: students who are scared to raise their hand and ask questions in the fear they may be wrong. Students who feel such enormous shame at what they deem is failure, when it is, in fact, a first draft. I see it in people who brush off hard feelings by saying “oh it’s not that bad, come on, chin up.” I see it when friends try and console each other by saying “it could be worse.” I see it when, after a miscarriage, a woman is told, “well, it is probably for the best.” Since when was it considered a bad thing to just be with your feelings, have a good cry, process whatever you are feeling? Why are we meant to cheer up before we are ready? Why is coping considered so brave when actually saying you are falling apart is the bravest thing of all?
Brené Brown discusses how we use numbing to distract us from hard feelings. Tv, food, alcohol become mechanisms of avoidance and in the long run actually end up also numbing us from the potential high points of life and most importantly from developing resilience.
Listening to Dr David talk, I hear common sense and yet I also hear what we all need to hear. That growth only comes from discomfort, that avoidance is (in her words) ‘dead people’s goals.’ The only people who are not stressed are dead people. Life is stressful, we all have to navigate full plates.
In coaching I have learnt that the greatest learning and awareness comes from those moments of discomfort. In the beginning I was scared of being uncomfortable and I tried to fill the silence with questions, even observations. But coaching is about creating space for people to be in the moment with discomfort and to know that it is safe to stay there. Coaching is a mirror where you can meet yourself, see and hear what you want, and don’t want, and get uncomfortable. I think it would be extraordinary if there were more places where that could happen. Where vulnerability could be the start of a conversation and that conversation could lead to places as yet undiscovered.
What are you scared of facing?