If your life is not full of challenges and obstacles that push you outside your comfort zone, you are leading an unfulfilled life. Read that again. Too often in my own life, I settle into situations that are comfortable to me. Each time, however, I also feel unfulfilled. I feel that I missed out on experiencing something new, difficult, or potentially life changing; all in exchange for temporary comfort.
All of us desire to have everything figured out. However, it’s fair to say that we each have also dreamt of making an impact on our world. These are two very different dreams but we confuse them as the same thing. If we’re truly interested in making our mark on society, obstacles and hardship are the only path forward. So often we feel that nurture, safety, and comfort are the goals in life. However, history presents an alternative more realistic viewpoint. We read about great women and men throughout history and assume they were born with a vision and the talent to leave a lasting mark. But if you take a closer look at their lives, beyond the surface level synopses we are tested on in school, you’d find that they seemed to welcome hardship.
One person who embodies this point is Ulysses S Grant. As leader of the Union army and 18th president of the United States, even the most naive of us recognize that he worked hard and earned those positions. What your high school history book doesn’t cover is how much of a psychopath this man was. This man embraced discomfort like a lover. He would even look for these qualities in his friends, going as far as to state, “The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.” I think we would all agree with this in theory. The shitty social media cliche, “if you don’t love me at my worst, then you can’t love me at my best” immediately comes to mind. However, Grant’s statement is deeper than our modern interpretation. It refers to a bond that can only be built through discomfort.
Stoic philosophy tells a tale that perfectly encapsulates Grant’s point. Marcus Aurelius, emperor of Rome and one of the premier advocates of stoicism, placed a massive boulder in the middle of a major trade road. He blocked the path and made it difficult to continue forward. At the first sign of discomfort, of course people complained and even demanded the emperor to move the boulder. But in stoic fashion, he remained unmoved by their outrage. Then one day, a trader came across the boulder Marcus had placed in the path. Rather than complain like the others, he instead embraced the challenge and built a tool that would help give him enough leverage to roll the boulder off the path. As the rock rolled away, the trader found a strange object where the boulder once was. It was a sack of gold, beyond any amount of money he had ever seen. As you’re reading this, you may have your own boulder blocking your path; don’t avoid it, don’t complain, don’t give up. Your goals are just underneath the obstacle you’re facing.
A Dipshit Comedian:
Why am I saying all this? Well, it’s because I’m going through my own hardships and am finding it hard to chase discomfort. I’m a struggling comedian, writer, and marketer; burning my candle at both ends. On top of that I have come face to face with the mistakes of my past which have plagued my life and have made certain things seemingly unbearable. I look back on the last 27 years and feel the weight of regret attached to things at the time I thought were the right choice. After all, I was comfortable making those decisions. But recently, something shifted in me. I realized that although adversity and discomfort is ferociously glaring at me, not backing down, I need to face it. I know it won’t be a quick and easy fix, that would be too comfortable. Rather, my journey ahead will be difficult and require me to chip away at the boulder piece by piece. I have to, I owe it to myself. My true self, not this comfortable version.
Let me be absolutely clear. I am no different from you. Within each of us is a divine gem, more precious than any diamond on earth. That gem is pure at our birth but over time attracts build up that seems to protect the stone. The reality is though, that build up only hides our true potential. With enough time and inattention, that build up calcifies and our gem becomes harder and harder to reach. It is only through hardship, trials and challenges that we can break the earthly rock that covers our divine nature. Piece by piece we are able to break through. This process isn’t comfortable. In fact, it can push us to situations we feel out of place, wrong even. However, it is only through this discomfort and work that we get closer to fulfilling our true purpose in life. Discovering who we really are and why we’re here.