The Art of Discomfort

Tim Ferriss can’t swim. Yes, Four-Hour Work Week, World Kickboxing Champ and World Record Holder in the Tango Tim Ferriss, until recently, couldn’t swim. Was actually AFRAID of it.

When you read about people like Tim who seem to be incredibly successful at everything they do, it’s a bit of a shocker when you discover that even the most amazingly successful people are not good at everything. We all have weaknesses. We all have things we are either lousy at or afraid to do.

Sometimes, when we are working really hard to reach our goals, we are forced to do things we either are no good at or are afraid to try. There are two choices in this situation – either walk away from that which makes you afraid, or just figure out a way to do it, even if it makes you uneasy. Usually, walking away is not an option. So the latter is often the more uncomfortable, but necessary choice.

Lots of people are afraid of cold calling and performing in front of crowds. I used to be terrified of both. I am an inherently shy person, and that shy little girl inside me couldn’t BEAR the thought of having to pick up the phone and sell something to a total stranger. That shy little girl would freak OUT at the prospect of having to stand up in front of a bunch of people she doesn’t know and speak, or (Heaven forbid) sing.

But, in order for my business to survive, I had to learn to cold call. In order for me to teach, I had to learn how to stand in front of a room full of people and present. 15 years ago, I was really bad at both of these things. The prospect of doing either made me immensely uncomfortable. But, my success was dependent on it. So I did it anyway.

The Art of Discomfort is all about embracing that which makes you uncomfortable. Recognize that it freaks you out. Feel the discomfort. Then, take a deep breath, and try it anyway. You’ll do it, possibly make some mistakes, probably even fail the first couple of tries. Feel that feeling of failure, but then try it again. Lather, rinse, repeat until you’ve mastered it. But each time, feel the feeling, learn the lesson, and move on without dwelling.

Tim Ferriss, over-achiever, non-swimmer, is now preparing to do a 1 kilometre, open water swim. I regularly cold-call clients and advertisers and succeed at getting new business in the door. And I teach and present and even sing in front of large crowds. Does it still bother me? Well, I admit that sometimes that shy little girl pops her head in and tries to shut me down, but all in all I really enjoy these aspects of my job now.

The Art of Discomfort – try it on something that makes you uncomfortable and let me know how it works out!

Photo credit: Flying Pete on MorgueFile.

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4 Responses

  1. I used to be terrified of heights. Then, while volunteering as a theatre tech in high school, the crew manager invited me up to the ‘grid,’ the network of 2x4s and steel girders that resides a full 80 feet above the stage.

    I hesitated; the crew manager laughed and said, ‘yea, your brother was always afraid of going up there when he worked here too.’

    I was up the ladder in minutes and my fear of heights was forever beaten.

  2. Well, you know I twittered recently about driving, and you told me if it made me so uncomfortable not to do it, but I replied that I was going to do it in the end, but it was an emotional rollercoaster for me to get in the car and pull out of the parking lot. Once I did that, I was ok. After I got to my destination, I was nervous and a bit shaky in the hands. My heart raced as I thought about driving back to our store, but I took a slower traffic route and it was a much better experience for me. But, I will still need Valium when I drive in the future. That’s a given. *snort*

  3. funny timing on this blog post. i’m a bit afraid of heights and just did a zip line across ste anne canyon falls. let’s just just say that falling would leave a mark. i did it at the prompting of my daughters who didn’t think it was scary at all. i guess they don’t think of what could happen enough. lesson is that sometimes you need prompting and support from others is necessary to do something uncomfortable. will post video and pics soon

  4. I grew up hearing the words” She’s just shy” in reference to me all the time. When i hit grade 7 and had to do public speaking for the first time in English class, I was aware of my own stress level enough to wear a skirt so that no one would actually see how much my knees literally shook.

    I happily helped out back stage at school productions, and when I was cast as lead in one play, I actually was glad I became sick a few weeks before and had to back out, and let the understudy take over.

    That was a long time ago. I now belly dance regularly as a performer and teacher, and love it! I accept when I have a less than perfect show/class, and allow myself to make mistakes, but still enjoy myself immensely as I am doing something I love.

    I have to wonder how much of our fears are based on the messages we received as children, rather than based on any actual bad experiences, practical or actual potentially negative outcome, or other more biological fight or flight reaction.
    I am sure it is a combination of all of it, and finding our own way through these fears is a great journey – even when we fall, are not perfect, or do choose to walk away.

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