Growing up in discomfort

I remember my first night in my halls of residence. There was this crazy buzzing about town that was electric. This energy that came from the people living there. Like every moment was fresh and every conversation was special.

I’d been back-packing around Wellington for a month or so, flew up from Christchurch to find a job to start the first semester. This was my moment to make shit happen. My time to really start building the foundations of my career, my life. It was going to be beautiful. I just needed to make some really decent friends, and reconnect with my existing ones.

Hauling my bags into the halls of residence that afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel like something special was about to kick off. Like I was about to be taken on some wild adventure. This crazy journey, all the hype of going to university and being one of those first year students. The ones who get wasted on Saturdays, skip Sundays and look forward to the next Friday to get smashed again.

And that was literally the case! I remember the first time I met my friends’ roommate. She was super attractive. But being the awkward, non-confrontational, extroverted introvert, my first reaction was something along the lines of “nice hair… I love hair…” Awkward! She completely ignored me. A nightmare. Well, at least a memorable one.

I still remember the first speed dating gig they had at our halls of residence as well. Everyone packed into the dining room, 50 or so students all awkwardly gathered to meet new people, maybe make some friends, maybe more than friends? Maybe the wrong type of friends? Who knows! But this super cool chick rocked up to my table. What did I do? Of course I melted in awkwardness in front of her… A complete disaster, again!

That first month of living in a halls was one of the best, most socially exhausting experiences I’ve ever had. All the raging parties, the nights you’d make sure your girlfriends weren’t running in front of cars in town when they were drunk. Those times you’d try sneak your non-halls of residence friends into your hall so they could come to a mates flat party.

But do you know what really stood out for me? The thing that really mattered most? It was honestly the long, uninterrupted, unexpected conversations with people who genuinely were interested. The totally spontaneous, unscripted, chats about the most unimportant things. Those moments were super special. While all the noise and chaos and embarrassing moments were hilarious, it was actually those random moments of random chats and mutual bantering that actually made those times special.

Those conversations over the pool table with your mates, or crying about breaking up with your ex while your friend played a half broke piano, chatting till the birds chirped in the morning. Pulling an all-nighter with your friend not because your assignment deadlines were unreasonable but because you enjoyed living your life and loved to procrastinate till it was too late.

Those moments kind of happened less and less since then. Moments like that don’t really exist anymore. Yeah, conversations are real, they are authentic, funny, coincidental, and are usually meant to be. But they aren’t new. Those endless chats at work about how funny it was that time when someone accidentally replied all to 1000 email addresses, or that time your workmate cracked a joke that was so funny it could have been plucked from the script of Brooklyn Nine Nine.

I just don’t get those moments now. Like every conversation is expected, or most of the time just small talk. Like changing channels on TV, chats feel shallower and task oriented. Not much is new. Not a lot is surprising. To a point where change is unwanted. Newness has become a vulnerability, something to be avoided.

But the overall experience is more closer to what is preferred. When you go to work you expect that work mates will want to talk about how their day is going. When you go to the gym it’s expected that people will turn up keen to work out and chat.

So what does it all mean? I think it means that I’ve grown up a lot. But in ways I didn’t expect. I’m comfortable, I’m healthy, I’m earning my way through life, so in many ways it would be fair to say that there are elements of success that exist in the things I do. Everything is all good, everything is convenient, surely that’s enough?

But that’s not enough. It’s never been enough. I want to feel like every moment is fresh again. As if nothing will be the same. With every experience, there should be this buzz zipping around like electric shocks. Every chat, every banter, all of those moments change the person I have become. Someone who is keen to grow. Someone who is keen to learn.

I have a natural urge to never feel like being comfortable is okay. You might disagree, and that’s totally fine! It should be fine to feel comfortable, right? Being in a position of comfort is a great thing, why would you ever consider discomfort, and a hunger to learn more?

It’s because not everyone is all good. It’s because I seriously believe that we have responsibilities to ourselves, others, and the world we live in to be brave and to challenge every moment where we think things are all good, and to be critical, to press back against decisions made.

Because we aren’t so hot. Especially not me. I pollute, I consume products that are supported by manufacturing lines which may contribute to the neglect of less fortunate people stuck in slave labour situations in parts of Vietnam or China. Or my unchecked consumerism might directly link to the creation of waste products which go nowhere but to oceans or other countries which are being bullied into thinking that being given education is a good trade off to being used as a dumping ground of rubbish for richer countries.

We also contribute to social disparities when we turn a blind eye and fail to acknowledge that poverty, homelessness, family violence, and drink driving are legitimate problems in our country. Only 50% of New Zealanders said in a survey by Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children that they actually cared about children they don’t know.

Our culture informs our beliefs and values in a way that makes us think that people should exist in isolation from one another. But the evidence is clear that people are social beings. We need to connect with each other. We are born with cognitive abilities to recognise faces. We are biologically wired to consider the needs of others and interact.

Comfort feels good. It’s predictable. Everything makes sense. There’s rhythm that you can get used to. It’s easy to avoid things that make you uncomfortable. The risk to return makes it feel like an unworthy investment. Why step into discomfort when I’ve already got everything I need? Why should I be the one to care? What’s in it for me?

All really good questions but all missing the point. The truth about comfort is that it’s limiting. It’s like cycling on trainer wheels or carting on a train track. It’s about safety, it feels safer. So it’s easy to think it’s a good idea. And it is! Being comfortable is a great thing, it works, there’s nothing fundamentally bad about it. But the assumption that discomfort is inherently bad, is wrong.

I remember when my friend became my colleague at work. I’d vouched for her to be employed and she was. A few months went by and she began to get offers of work that would supersede my role. She would be earning more, and she did.

In that change we went from being friends to being competitors for the same job. It was one of the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve gone through. The tenseness of conversation, feelings of abandonment and jealousy all competing with my love for connection, awareness for my own wellbeing, and happiness for her success drove me into some dark places.

I guess discomfort can be a compromising struggle. It can be really hard. Confusing and disempowering. Like someone is deflating your sense of who you are. Who doesn’t appreciate all of the hard work you do, and recognise how beautiful you are on the inside.

But at the same time, being uncomfortable taught me to celebrate the successes of my friends and colleagues. It taught me to be humble in the face of compromises. To accept that not everything is about me and my comfort but that others also need to be lifted up as well.

This is just one example of growing up in discomfort. But everyone has a few things they are uncomfortable with. Learning to accept them, with small practical steps to grow your sense of comfort is true growth. Being comfortable with discomfort is what growing up actually is all about. Because at the end of the day we are all responsible for how we feel, and more importantly how we treat other people.

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