What Is Uncomfortable But Rewarding?

There are a number of things in life that we might find uncomfortable. Discomfort can be found all around us, in both our personal and professional lives.

These can range from something relatively innocuous (say, an itchy sweater) to something more serious (like an inappropriate joke at work). For the most part, we experience discomfort for a reason. Typically, it is an indication that something is wrong.

Sometimes, however, a feeling of discomfort can be prelude to an improvement of some sort. Most people like things that are stable, and events or people that upset that stability, even in the process of making an improvement, can be disruptive. Change is uncomfortable.

Over the last decade or so, disruption has even become a buzzword in the business (and tech) world. AirBNB has disrupted the hotel industry. Uber and Lyft have disrupted the taxi industry. Used in this way, the word “disruption” suggests a change introduced that may cause chaos to an established industry or service, but ultimately leads to a better product for the consumer.

What are some other examples of something that starts out being awkward or difficult, but ultimately lead to positive change or growth? What is uncomfortable but rewarding? How can we tell “positive” discomfort from the “negative”?

Related questions: When is a lie justified? When is it useful to fail? Why do we put up with unhappiness? When is doubt helpful?


7 thoughts on “What Is Uncomfortable But Rewarding?”

  1. I’m going to steal an entry from another one of my blogs, “Dissident Potato, “ because it answers this question quite well:

    “I am a huge fan of essayist and modern day agrarian Wendell Berry. And in one of my favorite essays of his, “The Pleasures of Eating,” he notes that eating is an agricultural act. His advice to city folk who ask what they can do to act on this truth is to “Eat responsibly.”

    In a progression of seven things that articulate more about this responsibility, he goes from advising people to “Participate in food production to the extent that they can,” (even if that means simply growing some herbs on your windowsill) to “preparing your own food” to learning more about the origins of where your food comes from.

    Berry posits that we cede freedom if our food and its sources are controlled by someone else, a pretty hefty declaration. But if you think of it, what would you do if a major drought and/or disease killed off a majority of what you put on your plate? Do you know other places to go to get your food other than a grocery store? Do you know how to garden, so you could produce some of the food yourself? Could you replace a bulk of your diet while still meeting your nutritional needs?

    In a humorous, yet very sad, observation, Berry notes:

    “The food industrialists have by now persuaded millions of consumers to prefer food that is already prepared. They will grow, deliver, and cook your food for you and (just like your mother) beg you to eat it. That they do not yet offer to insert it, prechewed, into your mouth is only because that they have found no profitable way to do so.”

    True. However, if you look at some of the novelty products in the dairy aisle, the food industrialists come pretty close.

    Climate change along with the terribly high attrition of our seed diversity makes me think that questioning how responsibly we eat is worth asking proactively, rather than dealing with a food crisis after it hits.

    While I consider myself a pretty responsible eater, I wonder what I would do if the foods I eat were in short supply. In other words, I am not free.

    Essays like this one really make me evaluate my eating choices. I am proud that I eat mostly whole or lightly-processed foods. For example, I eat a lot of fresh and frozen veggies, not- to lightly-processed dairy products, almonds, dried fruits, and soups and sauces my spouse makes from mostly whole foods. My garden provides a decent amount of the food I eat in the late spring to early autumn. I have a freezer which, at times, contains a fair amount of preserved food from my garden. Kudos on that front, I guess.

    That noted, I have to admit that, again, I am not free. I could be better in the arena of preserving food for consuming in the winter. I haven’t taught myself or sought training on how to can or ferment. And I don’t have a dehydrator, which would be an awesome addition to my kitchen. If I belonged to a CSA (i.e. community supported agriculture), I could certainly preserve more for the winter months. And I could frequent farmers markets much more than I do now.

    My advice to you, dear readers, is to read Berry’s essay, part of his book, “What Are People For?” And then, do a self-assessment.

    Are you free?”

  2. I think that just about any act of growth, or personal or professional advancement, involves change. Change makes most people feel uncomfortable. So, logically, all growth makes you uncomfortable.

    This is an important realization, and it is one that I think we, as a society and/or as a species, don’t often acknowledge. We crave stability. But it is only through instability that we can grow and meet our full potential.

    Recently, I had a conversation with a friend of mine. Throughout the conversation, this friend continued to challenge what I was saying. Not in an aggressive or belittling fashion, but just pointing out holes in my logic, or asking what statistics I had to back up my claims, that sort of thing.

    I found this conversation very uncomfortable. I was uneasy throughout, and the longer it went on, the more I started to doubt what I was saying and what I believed. After our discussion was over, and I had some time to reflect on it, I realized that despite how I felt at the time, it was ultimately very rewarding. When I had only thought very shallowly on some topics, now I had been forced to think through them deeply. Where there were holes or misunderstandings or mistakes in my beliefs, I had corrected them, which made me even more confident in my thoughts and resultant actions.

    Add to that the fact that the discussion itself was very memorable — I was reviewing it in my head after the fact, which I don’t do with most conversations I have!

    It made me think about how all things that are worthwhile are difficult or uncomfortable or challenging. And I think it helps, at the end, to make subsequent breakthroughs all the more rewarding.

  3. Other than the obvious example of childbirth, which is the hardest physical thing I’ve ever gone through, I am reminded of the scripture at Malachi 3:3 which says, in part, “and he will sit as a refiner and cleanser of silver…and he will clarify them like gold and like silver”. Like gold, which is refined and purified in fire, our thinking and beliefs are refined by going through trials. A belief system that is developed under circumstances of peace and acceptance will not be as strong as one that is challenged by, and proven, through trials and difficulties.

  4. Yesterday I drove over to the State Capitol in St. Paul and was invited to testify before a House of Representatives committee on increasing the amount of financial assistance for needy families- something that hasn’t been done in Minnesota in more than 30 years.

    It was uncomfortable for me – just getting there and figuring out where to park, climbing the steps to the Capitol, looking for my fellow advocates. I went mostly to be a witness, hoping to blend in with the crowd. As it turned out, the supporters weren’t many – a couple dozen at most. And yet, when we met with the Lt. Governor, a one-time recipient of this program, I was inspired to see how she supported our cause. She pulled up a chair and talked face-to-face with a struggling single mom trying to support two children on $532 a month. Both of them shed tears. I was just a few feet away from both of them. It was an experience that was uncomfortable at first, but turned out to be one of the best things I’ve been part of lately.

    So, I’m in complete agreement with the theses behind the question. It’s good, now and then, to step out of our comfort zone and stand up for what we care deeply about. Some of my friends are dubious about giving more money to the poor. I don’t see it that way. 70 percent of the recipients of this money are children who have done nothing wrong. They need food, clothing, shelter, education, and love to flourish. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 🙂

  5. Testifying before the House Human Service Finance Committee was exhilarating! When the chairperson invited people from the audience to comment, I felt like I needed to speak, and so I did. I told them that the JRLC (Joint Religious Legislative Coalition) had previously asked for a $100 per month increase, which I calculated would amount to the cost of a movie ticket to Minnesota taxpayers. I told them that our state has its priorities wrong – we’ve spent millions of dollars for new football stadiums for the Vikings and Gophers, and can’t seem to find money to invest in needy families who could use a hand up. I got the feeling that the committee members would support our bill; they certainly seemed interested and receptive.

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