And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.Anaïs Nin
In the Hero’s Journey, there comes a moment when the hero of our story must die. It is a moment of supreme defeat, when all truly is lost and the way forward is completely unclear. We refer to this moment as “deathbed” and it’s often found in the most meaningful narratives because it speaks to a very real experience that we have as humans.
I have seen this play out many times: a person declares that they want to change and grow; the desire is genuine, they can see their part in the struggles of their life. But somehow taking the real actions needed to change their behavior doesn’t happen. You can give a person all the resources in the world: the best self-help books, the greatest YouTube tutorials, the best coaching techniques known to man but until the person has reached their own “rock bottom,” their own moment of metaphorical “deathbed,” change will not happen and old patterns of behavior will always win. There is a certain comfort in our habitual behaviors but eventually the pain of staying in our old ways pushes us through the pain required to grow.
Growth is never comfortable because it requires you to push past your previous limits. Staying within your limits feels safe and comfortable, pushing against those limits in order to grow will always feel uncomfortable and sometimes impossible. But, only by facing into that discomfort and surrendering to it can you hope to move forward.
There comes a moment when you must accept defeat. Your normal, habitual ways of living have created these problems in your life that you know you want to change. In order to actualize the change you want in your life, you must “surrender” in the sense of giving up the idea that you have the answers. You must accept the pain of truly reaching rock bottom, a place where the only way out is through.
Growth, true growth will hurt. The pain is a signal that you are pushing past your old limitations and stepping into something new. Without the pain, we stay stunted in our own patterns and fears. Pain and fear keep us “safe” and there is no growth in safety. Nothing evolves into something new in walls of safety. The butterfly must break out of the chrysalis and the baby must be pushed out of the womb in pain and blood.
I feel that we are coming close to a turning point in the United States today; a moment when many people in my country will need to face their own pain, fear and discomfort if we have any hope of growth and healing as a nation. I am writing this just about ten days after the death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis. It’s still early days, the latest spark of protests here and around the world may simply be transitory, another momentary blip in the news perhaps made more striking because of the ongoing global pandemic. Perhaps, when states start to reopen and our local sports teams return to the fields and courts, this will all fade and Black people will go back to enduring the systemic racism we’ve lived with for generations. Maybe, but I hope not. I know it’s painful, I know it’s hard but I am hopeful that if enough people are soul searching and facing their discomfort that we’ll start see real changes. It may start small but recent conversations I’ve had in my daily life have given me a small glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, people are starting to face their discomfort around racial inequality.
The first step in AA’s twelve-step program is admitting that you are powerless over your addiction and that it is ruining your life. I am a Black American and I truly believe that the “original sin” of racism and bigotry in this country is hurting us and holding us back. It creates divisions and stunts our ability to hear diverse voices and perspectives. For the first time in my professional career as an adult, I’m hearing leaders openly discuss racism. It’s past time for us as a nation to start facing our discomfort and start having the difficult conversations that will be required before we can start to move forward with real, tangibles changes.
On both a personal level and a societal level, growth is only possible through discomfort and pain. And so, I encourage you to take an honest stock of your life.
Where are you avoiding pain and turning to the comfort of safety?
What are you afraid of?
Where are you avoiding your discomfort and keeping silent or inactive in the safety of your comfort zone?
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