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Comfortable with Discomfort
How do people get comfortable with discomfort?
How do people engage mindfully with challenging discourse, differences of opinions, aggressive interactions, and high emotions whilst maintaining a joyful, resilient and open heart, but a strong backbone?
It’s something I have been consciously practising this year, partly to develop my ability to stay in discomfort with a level head, but partly because I have had no choice. It’s been spirit-ruffling, enlightening, uncomfortable, and stretching. I always think I am doing crap and very often FEEL crap, when I also instinctively know that I am doing the best job possible.
The need to work with integrity drives this desire to engage with the challenging, but it doesn’t come easy. I am often caught at a crossroads when I find myself the only one standing with one side of the opinion, and the rest of the people around me swept up by the momentum of the argument, or a personality which bulldozes. I am not a bulldozer. Words have meaning and merit to me. What simply is “shooting the breeze” or “meaningless rubbish” and falls by the wayside for others affects me until I make peace with it and decide I am done. I am not a needless “hanger-on” person; words and feelings simply have purpose, merit and meaning to me. In fact, I am working hard to let go when conversations are done and expired. And the relief is immense. It’s healthy and wholehearted. But again, never done carelessly without necessary attention and thought.
How do I then learn to walk in integrity, connect with the challenge knowing that it will affect me deeply, and repair myself that I may walk into difference + disagreement with a calm and clear head?
Many of my friends, colleagues and family members think I can do this instinctively. But it doesn’t come naturally for me. If anything, it comes particularly unnaturally, with me having to sit in excruciating discomfort as I work through the framework of each problem and decide what action I need to take. Not what I WANT to take, not what would feel nice and comfortable for me. But what I NEED to do.
It’s times like this I HATE having a moral compass, because when you have stuck with this north-facing pin of integrity, you do not feel RIGHT until you’ve arrived at the course of action which you know is right. And often, the right decision affords personal peace, but it comes with an emotional mountain to climb first; a conversation which requires rehearsing, losing 3 hours sleep, spending the day before dipping in and out of worry, going back over ideas and ground until you are satisfied. There is no easy way to coexist with a moral compass and be a vulnerable, joyful person of integrity.
It WRINGS THE FUCKING LIFE out of you.
But there is no other way.
You need to do it.
So here’s the question: How does everyone else get comfortable with discomfort?
I’m not talking about deodorising a workplace or situation where everything is hunky-dory and annoyingly, superficially “fine”. I don’t buy in for that. I welcome safe discussion and discourse. I WANT accuracy for where I stand and what I do. But too often, pride and ego get in the way, and safe discussion without incidental power-over is impossible. And it breaks my heart, because I am no weakling. I just don’t want to be unnecessarily hurt by thoughtless, pride-driven conversation.
What I am talking about is when integrity does NOT win the day, and you watch as mud-slinging, bulldozer personalities and power-over get top spot? HOW do other people practise being resilient and courageous in this environment? How do you make peace with having to walk into battle, when you didn’t ask to walk into battle? How do you become more capable warriors in navigating shit-storms, without losing yourself? How do you keep your energy levels up? How do you learn to let things go after they are done? When do you know that they are done?
I don’t want total agreement. I want a safe place to put ideas on the table, the be deeply seen and valued, to not have my intrinsic work questioned when I am discussing difficult topics. It’s how we all want to feel.
Seen, valued, and heard, with worthiness which affords us the courage and audacity to have different opinions and creative ideas.
I know that I have instinctively walked this more challenging path all my life, because that’s how I was raised, that is what I am made of to the very core. I am so LUCKY to be lifted in heart and spirit by family and friends, who know me, and know what I do. They know my humility, they know my faults. They know where a should be fighting harder, and they also know where I am gentle in my strength.
For me, I know the cost of this walk of integrity. And I am tired from the heaviness of responsibility. As you know, this comes as UNNATURALLY to me as possible, yet I must do it. How do the great leaders of the world do it? How did Barack + Michelle Obama walk through their presidential term and maintain warmth and humanity, whilst making the hard decisions to guide and shape a nation? How did Nelson Mandela make wisdom and peace from hardship, over and over? Not just for a mere day; but when he least felt like it?
I am asking for some momentum and wind beneath my wings, some advice + wisdom, on how to continue to sustainably walk into challenging situations and understand how to chart a course of action without apology, but without sacrifice.
Life really IS what you ask of it.
How you look at a minute, and what you decide to do with that minute, those 60 seconds, dictates what you get out of life.
It’s not advantage, or opportunity; and it’s rarely just luck. It’s what you choose to ask of that pocket of time. What you choose, with perfect clarity, to use that moment for.
There is such a fine line between existing and living, and as I get older and walk more steps, the more completely I realise this. Comfortable and engaged is so easily accessible. It’s SO comfortable, that you don’t realise sometimes that you are not really living. Not really asking all you can of a moment. However, squeezing a moment for all it can give is not living, either. Chasing down a goal, a dream, and aspiration, and beating it into submission MAY get you want you want, but there is no truth, no light, no life-blood. It’s an inert and lifeless achievement, empty as a shell when you get there.
The difference between a life of existing, a life of living, and a life of demanding is quite simply a breath. Smallest width of an eyelash. The flutter of a butterfly’s wings. In order to SEE it and KNOW it, you need to be alert and alive in the soul, every day.
There are no easy answers. You simply have to WALK. Deliberately, joyfully, honestly, completely, fully.
I look at those who are happy and hardworking, and I realise that they have not received a better deal in life. They live a unique combination letting go but holding on and valuing. They do not labour a point, but they BRING UP points that need to be brought up. They love with a fierce intensity, and yet they can open their fingers and let go with grace the moment that it is needed. They do not have a guarantee for anything, and yet they seem to make value from the small moments. They have no materialistic backlog of memories, they simply HAVE memories, fully-formed, lasting, and real, to celebrate their humanity.
I love so many things, and I’m afraid of so many other things. I find it easy to be joyful each day. Yet I wonder if this attitude to life will change when I get older, when I have to rely more on others, when I am not as capable; will I become irrelevant, or will I be misunderstood? More importantly, will I have the grace and the courage to know when I need to move on from one mindset and embrace another? Those who live a full life know when one chapter has ended, and they need to go forward into the next. They do not grieve change, but rather they learn about it, embrace it, study it, live it, laugh and struggle with it, BECOME it. They do not look back at what was, or mourn what they “should have, could have, might have” been, they simply ARE.
Again, you won’t know until you hit that path.
There are no easy answers.
There is no guarantee.
All you can do is WALK FORWARD, ready to embrace each day.
A good read.
I am on holidays. Wonderful, blessed, not-a-minute-too-soon holidays.
And I find myself too easily aimlessly wandering, or working flat-out, and not leaning into my own inspiration. I am working off the residual momentum of Term 1, rather than making choices on how I’d like to spend my time with purpose and clarity. With joy and measure.
And the very worst incentive of all, I am working off the “let’s do it ALL” mentality, so that I can just do absolutely nothing for 2 weeks.
Which is the most unhealthy that you can be in terms of creative thinking and self-inspiration.
The thing is, nothing is ever complete. Everything is in a state of change, and is delightfully, annoying impermanent. And if you get stuck on trying to FINISH, you’ll never, ever really LIVE. If you’re able to walk each day step by step, without hurrying but without stopping, the day is so absolutely full of delight and learning. And I forget that when I am wrung-out-exhausted at the end of the term.
What helps right now is finding inspiration from those amazing people who have suffered hardship, or have had to struggle hard to find their place in life. At present, what is capturing my imagination is how pure passion and fire for work is the difference between an actual trajectory or aimless wanderings. It both amazes and inspires me that when there is passion and excellence, a certain heat and light comes off it, or the person in question. I have the stomach-flipping moment of wondering, poignantly, “Well, what do I stand for?!”
And I realise that my LIFE has been my trajectory. In the playful, stupidly colourful way that I have lived it. The passion in my words when I am invested in my teaching is unmistakable, and if I do nothing else but instil love and confidence into every one of my students, then I have done enough.
I need to remember that.
There is nothing that drives me more than a student who has not only achieved their full ability, but has done so realising their full worth. They have achieved excellence not AT the cost of their well-being, but BECAUSE of their well-being. They have done it wholly, playfully, with brimming REALNESS of the very essence of who they are. They haven’t CONFORMED. They have BEEN.
That’s the way I want to live.
And I take some time these holidays to rediscover that love of life, that dedication to teaching, and that pure authenticity of being.
Darling Girl, who aches with hope, here is what I say to you:
Fill the room with ALL of you. Not pretentiously, but without apology.
Speak with every ounce of who you are.
Succeed. Oh, succeed because it is your life’s path.
Speak. Because you have so much to say that is innate and bursting forth. Speak all of your words, not just the ones that are curated.
Live, not clinically, not withholding, but FULLY. Messily, Completely. Utterly. Totally. Fully.
Don’t make space for a job, a misguided hope, a cultural implication, a relationship, a child, or anything else that is not there. Darling Girl, your heart, soul, and life will stretch to accommodate those if and when they arrives. Because that’s how life works!
If you live like this, in the ghosting of a hope, then you are living in deficit, and on misplaced reality. My beautiful, sweet, strong, gritty one, you live NOW, not for a time in the past or in the future, and certainly not on something that is grounded in only “what ifs”.
Travel. My God, travel and see all that you can, because you have the freedom and license to right now. You are only you at present, and it is absolutely right and true without being selfish. Travel and step into the world, as it fully embraces you as you are. Not as a wife, a mother, a partner, but as all of you.
Travel because it is embedded in the human spirit, that very curiosity that inspires and fires all of the imagination and softens us to humanity, whilst setting us alight. The need to be free, even when you have your own place in the world, is as real as breathing.
Feel. With every ounce of you heart, not just the spare corners, and certainly not just the safe ones. Whilst you get to pick how your mind responds, you cannot tap human emotion. The heart yearns for what it yearns for, to be connected. Do not hold back because you don’t feel you’ve earned the right because you are NOT something.
You are allowed to fall in love with children and be a mother even if you are not a mother. You love with intensity even if you are not in a relationship. You are borne of love, and it is yours to live. You are a woman of the world, and you affect it, and interact with it, any way you choose.
Life will keep moving and you will need to be a part of the change, fleeting, slow, circular, sudden, it is all impermanent.
You can cry, and laugh, and shriek, and run, and dance without any fear that you need to be a little more quiet; you do not need to earn the right to be human.
You already have. Completely. Humanity is a birthright.
Do not let that gloriously beating, beautiful heart stop or harden.
Cry your tears.
Feel your grief.
Celebrate your joy.
Share your love.
Walk through it with integrity and authenticity.
Grief never leaves our cells, we just learn to carry it better. We are all grieving something, either graciously or not. But nor will the absolute, unquenchable desire to live ever leave us either.
Which will you respond to? The fear of being hurt, or the fear of not fully living?
Make new meaning every day.
Change is in the minute, on every breath. Hold too tight, and you will only find pain.
Darling Girl, I love you more than you will ever know.
Miss Year 11: “Tough call for me last night Ms Kwok; I had to choose between making brownies or plucking my eyebrows. So I chose the brownies + decided to rock the hairy brows.”
Me: GUUUUUUUUUUUUUURL! I be so PROUD! 🙌
YOU ARE WINNING AT LIFE. 👊
An interesting moment of clarity for me these last few weeks:
That I have always struggled with doing things for the pure joy of it.
That is strange on so many levels as I’ve always been so passionately in the guts of life. I have always fought to live well, been motivated, worked hard, been dedicated a committed as a student, a teacher, a friend, a daughter, a partner, a woman.
But when I ask myself, “What shall I do because I am motivated just by the very essence of who I am, and for my own gain and worth?”, there are days I genuinely struggle to differentiate duty from desire, hustle from worth.
For example, I am dedicated to my piano practise because I have Year 12s I need to look after and play well for. I like maintaining my technique. But how often do I play for the pure joy of playing, for the creation of sound and feeling and light? And more tellingly, how often do I tell my students to do this without doing so myself? And then when I actually catch myself playing for the pure joy of playing, when my soul is alight in my fingers and the phrases roll like waves, that feeling of authenticity makes me shiver with recognition, but also simultaneously grieve my iron-clad sense of duty.
And then I wonder, how many times have I acted from that sense of duty? In the immediate sense, I am a woman of my own moral compass. I am strong, independent, joyful, and courageous. I am imaginative in my ideas, interested in the world, curious about happenings, compassionate to humankind, loving by the minute and day. But I wonder how many times I’ve had to be forcefully selfish to prove to myself that I can choose for myself. And as warped as that sounds, I am sure many of you know what I mean. That you need to go a little too hard out, a little overboard in your rest-time, spending, arguments, ideas, and so forth to make sure that you are being fully yourself, and that you are fully realising your net worth.
The fact is, you don’t. Ever.
You get to make the choice.
Quite simply, I do not have to defend anything, I can state it. Sounds great, but my goodness, in practise, that pang of lingering doubt is hard to erase.
I can walk in and just be.
Be, be, be, all of me, over and over.
With each day, I marvel that I can sit at the piano and play, and my heart rises up in what it recognises to be deep, unshakable joy and brimming self-worth, rather than just a youthful, girlish, manic sense of duty. That the words I choose do not have to be overly preppy or enthusiastic to make their point, they just have to be spoken. That I can use my time and space any way I want, and when people walk into my home, or into my presence, they share that realm with me, I don’t bend to make them comfortable. That I can sit in a conversation and be so far left of the middle, but still be gracious and calm and interested.
It’s a good place to practise being.