Just this past weekend, I was able to visit my sister and my niece on the island. My niece is such a cool little cat. Without any fear, she climbs the furniture, jumps off the stairs, and hangs on the big kid monkey bars. Even though she is a bundle of freaking joy, she’s still only two, and that age range can come with some wild mood swings and a lot of meltdowns on the floors of various public places.
Toddlers seem to thrive with routine. Doing the same things over and over. It’s safe and familiar. They have their bottle they always drink from, their stuffed animal friend that comes with them everywhere, and their warm and cozy safety blanket that tucks them in at night. But then, the time comes when their bottle needs to turn into a cup, their stuffed animal friend is hanging on by a literal thread, and the cozy safety blanket is still there but does not cover the whole surface area of their new big kid bed.
My niece fights it at first, flailing on the floor of the local coffee shop because she wants her bubba. Shrieking at a pitch that is deafening to all mammals, insects and invertebrates over having to drink from a cup. You feel like the worst Auntie in the whole world (mainly because you hand the screaming child back to her mother and walk away, pretending as if you don’t know them). One day though, out of nowhere, she’ll be asking for more juju in a cup and the bottle has been long forgotten.
Just like a toddler who detests being uncomfortable with change, we adults don’t react to it much better. We do everything in our power to avoid it. To stay in the safe zone. The monotonous environment that holds little to no surprises. And….little to no room for any sort of growth; physical, emotional, social, etc.
Discomfort is essential to growth.
My sister, like many others, is painfully afraid of heights. She thinks what I do for a living is insane because I am constantly putting myself outside of my comfort zone to learn new things, to overcome fears, to adapt. Well she surprised me on my last visit with a trip to the local climbing gym. She was determined to work through this uncomfortable feeling of believing she was going to fall to her death if she got on that climbing wall. The sister in me, found this irrational fear hilarious.
She made it to the very top of the wall her first time and didn’t stop trying new problems until our hour session was up. I was really proud of her. Knowing her daughter, who was already eyeing up the 5.11 problems on the wall, she’ll need to do lots of these things to keep up.
It’s so easy to revert back to what is safe and painless.
To go back to the couch and watch Netflix instead of the gym because your muscles still ache from that inaugural workout
To avoid going to that new Meet-up group alone for fear of having to strike up a conversation with some stranger (who could end up being your next new friend)
To only jog or bike as your form of physical activity because the learning curve for rowing, climbing or cross-country skiing is just too intimidating
If we fail to work through these moments of fragility, we will fail to ever come close to our potential. Adapt or die is a thing. Our brains need new challenges to grow and build new synapses. Our muscles need new stimuli to keep from atrophying and to protect our joints from injury.
So next time, you find yourself experiencing that impulse to reach for your ‘safety blanket’, consider riding that wave of discomfort to the other side. It may take you to a new place. A place which you will never want to return from.