“Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” – Susan David – TED Talk “The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage”
This pandemic caught me at a really odd time in my life, an odd time that has been going on for at least two years and which was exacerbated by the death of my semi-estranged mother. The scenario: 50 years of work (amateur, semi-professional, professional) in a field which always put me in front of people as their entertainment; 17 overlapping years of teaching which always put me in front of people as their instructor and entertainment. These fields were not the only work I’ve done but they were the most consistent, to the point where over the last three-or-so years I’ve been fantasizing about getting out. But my skills and talents fall where they fall and so it has been easy to just continue down these paths, despite a growing desire (desperation) to get out.
The pandemic snatched my work – all of it – right out from under me. Consequently, I have been fortunate to actually be relieved by this situation, almost as though I’d been saved. Yes, my money left but my financial and home situations don’t really require that I make much money anymore (thank you, anal retentive tendency to throw money at my debt until it is all gone). At the same time, about a sixth of my work has been salvaged through the magic of video so I do get to make a little money and still feel released from bondage to my career.
I have every reason to be happy.
So why have I been in this combination of panic/frustration/despair right along with my relief?
I said before that this pandemic caught me at a really odd time in life. Yes, I’ve been at a crossroads but I’ve just been standing there, paralyzed, looking at all the street signs pointing in different directions and listing to myself all the reasons why none of those roads is a good choice, the problems with each one, and why I just can’t. Here are all my great reasons for staying paralyzed:
- In two years I’ve gone from a little inclined not to hang with others to downright unsocial. I prefer my family and I’m uncomfortable spending time with anyone else.
- After over 50 years of depression and anxiety, it is exhausting putting myself under the judgmental eyes of people who can probably see all that and I’m uncomfortable with what they’re probably thinking. (Performers know that the artist is one entity, the person is another.)
- I hate talking on the phone. I’m uncomfortable giving my very important time away to some voice that I probably don’t want to listen to and don’t want to tell anything.
- I already spent way enough time using my office and administrative skills. I’m uncomfortable being tied to a desk all day (although I’ve had a standing desk for years, so there is that).
- I’ve been completely self-employed for 17 years, partially self-employed for way longer than that. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of being an employee and having a boss again.
- I’m 60 years old. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of starting something entirely new, learning something entirely new.
- I’m uncomfortable doing the same old things I’ve been doing and using the same old skills I’ve always used.
You get the point by now, I’m sure. I’m uncomfortable with so many things that I have made myself unable to make any choice whatsoever as to what to do with this next chapter of my life. Go ahead, try to think of any field in which I might work without running into one of my discomfort zones.
You can’t do it. I haven’t been able to either.
So why haven’t I been happy? Why have I been in this combination of panic/frustration/despair right along with my relief?
Because I feel useless. Useless. Of no use. No use to me and, even worse, no use to the world. I have avoided discomfort in favor of being useless.
Today – actually before taking a much-needed long walk and listening to the Ted Talk quoted above – I signed up for COVID-19 contact tracer training. I said to myself, “I bet this is all on the phone. I hate the phone.” I said to myself, “I don’t even know if I’ll be able to get a job, so what’s the point?” I said to myself, “People are so angry and uncooperative right now. I’m afraid of dealing with them.” But I started the training (all online) because I had told my husband some time ago that I wanted to learn to do something I know not even a little bit about, from the ground up. (Direct contradiction to #6 above.) This meets that criteria. And I started the training because it most definitely is needed. I said to myself, “I’ll deal later with the fact that I probably won’t do anything with it because it’ll make me uncomfortable.“
And then I went for the long walk and listened to the Ted Talk and that brilliant statement: “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” The speaker also said, in response to someone whom had told her all the things they didn’t want to feel, “So, you have dead people’s goals.” Wow. Dead people’s goals. She went on to explain that only the dead get to exist without feeling discomfort. Mind … blown.
I’m going to continue on with this contact tracer training. I love learning and even taking tests (yes, I’m a nerd). When I’m done, I will be very uncomfortable with how to proceed. But I will proceed. Because I’m tired of feeling useless. I’m tired of being paralyzed by discomfort; by feelings; by waiting, wishing, hoping for some magical scenario to materialize which will bring me some income and make me valuable to the world again all while making me feel like I’m wrapped in a warm blanket. It ain’t gonna happen that way.
I want to be of use to the world once more. I want to have a meaningful life. So I choose discomfort.