It was becoming a lot of work.
Sorry, I should say that he was becoming a lot of work.
It felt like the amount of work that was needing to go into raising my son was just growing at an alarming rate. Felt like? Hmm, pardon my cuteness. It was absolutely, without a doubt, growing at an alarming rate.
A dozen nappy changes, food and water and more nappy changes. Constantly washing, constantly folding that washing, constantly cleaning every space he was going into. Every. Single. Day.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the little guy with all my heart, I have since the moment he was born. He’s the greatest thing in my world. But he was work.
Then came an interesting day.
My wife asked me to change him, perhaps for the fifth time that day. I’d always do so, rarely with a grumble, but this time was different. This time I put into practice something I’d read recently – instead of focusing on the work, I focused on what the work meant.
I got to take care of my son. I got to look after him, to make him clean, to make him happier, to scare off any risk of sickness. It gave me a chance to make him giggle, to get a hug, to teach him something new, to strengthen our bond.
Suddenly the work of taking care of my kid became the privilege of raising him.
It’s day thirty of the writing challenge, so I used it as a chance to tell a small story about my son, about how a small mental change improved my personal life.
But I want to go pro here, so what I really wanted to talk about today is how a big small change profoundly improved my professional life.
It is to our benefit that we trust our gut instincts.
They tell us to avoid the sounds of monsters in the cave, and the shadows dancing in the trees.
A small discomfort arises along our spine and we move quickly to avoid it.
It use to be this was so we wouldn’t get killed, or so that we would feel the awkwardness we dump into a social pool of our peers, so that we aren’t kicked out of the group. Lovely little gifts of evolution.
But this gift has turned sour. We aren’t going to get killed, and more often than not, anything awkward we might say amongst our friends might get a giggle and some fun prodding.
We avoid that which makes us uncomfortable. We don’t exercise because it’ll make our legs uncomfortable, we don’t read because it’ll make our minds uncomfortable, we don’t put ourselves into challenges because it’ll make our ego uncomfortable.
(If you can’t tell by now, thirty days in, that above paragraph is aimed at me, not “we”, but you know, I’m avoiding an uncomfortable truth.)
When I turned this around and started to do for discomfort what I did for raising my son, the impact it had was incredible.
I was sitting at my desk, having recently done some tasks I’d done a thousand times, things that were now second nature, and then moved to something I was unsure of.
I felt my stomach twist. I had a task in front of me, something I wanted to do, but something that I didn’t quite have the skills for.
I felt the discomfort rising, I could feel the coppery breath on the back of my neck, telling me to bail.
It’s fine to bail, it’s fine to run, it’s fine to do nothing but average work for this job because then it’ll be gone, and I can get back to the easy work, the stuff I’ve done a thousand times. Don’t worry, Oh don’t worry! Next time it’ll be easier. Next time you’ll take on the challenge and do a marvellous job of it. But this time, just this once, maybe bail on the effort.
I’d been here a thousand times before and had taken the exiting option. I did whatever needed to be done so the job could leave. The work wasn’t amazing; it was rarely good. But it was fine. A thousand times the work was just fine.
But this was it. This little inaction action was the cause of all the issues I’d had with my skillset, it was the reason I looked at whatever talent I had left as if it were a dried out seed.
I had spent years avoiding discomfort, relying on whatever skill I had developed, depending on my ego to tell me I was doing good work, good enough work, fine work, and that was all that was needed.
I looked down at the work I had to do, looked at what was to be done next, what was needed, who I’d need to talk to.
I decided to enjoy this discomfort. I decided that this discomfort was a sign – something I should follow. If the reason behind the work of raising my son meant looking after him, then the reason for this discomfort in my work was an opportunity to improve my craft.
As I was working through the job, piece by piece, I found that some parts felt less comfortable than others. So I worked on those.
The twist in my stomach was tightening every time I did so. That’s what happens – it’s our instinct telling us we’re entering unknown territory and danger abounds.
But there’s no danger here, there’s just unrealised skill, unrefined skill, unknown work ahead.
It’s opportunity to learn, to extend yourself. When we enter this place we’re simply entering a place we don’t yet know how to navigate.
And that’s the joy – when you’re an amateur at something you don’t know when you’re doing it wrong, so you hack together solutions, refining them as you go. But you have something to refine. We stumble our away around the room, in complete darkness, sometimes gently finding a wall, sometimes busting our knees open on some furniture.
But if we do this long enough we find our way. We find that by walking around in the darkness often enough, we mentally illuminate the room.
The darkness is what’s uncomfortable, and if you can enjoy being in the dark, you’ll more quickly figure out how to cast some light.
Wanting To Be Uncomfortable
Enjoying this discomfort means you’ll be more willing to chase it, it means you’ll learn, filling in gaps, weeding out opportunities for it to take root.
It means you’ll be worth more. Imagine every time you felt uncomfortable about an aspect of your work if you said to yourself “oh wow, this is an opportunity to make more money.” It won’t happen right away, but by chasing the discomfort, the unknown, and strangling it with knowledge, you’ll increase your worth to your clients. You’ll be able to offer more.
But you’re probably a designer or developer, and one thing I love about this community of ours is that most of us don’t seem to care about money as much as improving ourselves.
Striking upon discomfort is striking upon an area that needs refinement. Something needs to be learnt, something needs to be practiced.
Enjoying your discomfort means instead of avoiding aspects of your work that you don’t like doing, you give yourself the ability to simply say “Oh wow, this is an opportunity for me to try this new thing out.”
Rather than think that “this new thing” is something you have to learn because you don’t know it, imagining that it’s a toy you haven’t yet had a chance to play with means you’ll race at it, ripping the packaging off so you can figure out how to get some noise and movement out of the thing.
Before you know it you’ll begin to enjoy the discomfort. Hell, you’ll hunt it out, realising that it’s an opportunity to improve your skills, to make you better than you were yesterday.
Look at that, the discomfort is a gift again.