There is an odd orb in the sky, shining down on me this warm Sunday morning. We’ve not seen it for most of the summer, other than the week of my Adirondack Publisher’s Invitational. The “summer of rain” has hopefully come to an end, and today, once the kids awaken, I’m looking forward to a lake day with the family, with no agenda.
Yet as I sit here on the dock in a bright red wooden Adirondack chair, the lake is so quiet I can hear the whoosh of the wings when a bald eagle flies overhead in search of fish. The sky today is cloud-free, the blue rich with a slight cast of pink, and the sun is warming me and my coffee.
Last week I took my sons to the Congress of Future Scientists and Technology Leaders. The event is for smart kids who are interested in careers in science and tech, and I highly recommend it.
I sat in on most of the four days of sessions from some of the most amazing science and technology minds in the world, but sneaked out a couple of times for some experiences with my son Brady. We went to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game thanks to some friends who had great seats they could not use, and we returned a day later for the Fenway Park tour.
Visiting a Living Legend
One of the other highlights of my week was a visit with artist John Stobart, who lives south of Boston in the town of Westport, Massachusetts. John is in his mid-80s and known as one of the most brilliant marine painters of our time. He was born and studied in England and came to America as a young man.
This was a time for old friends to reconnect, to talk about the state of the art world, and for me to thumb through stacks of paintings and studies he has done over the years and see some of his classic paintings in person. John even drove me around the area and took me to the places he had done many of his famous paintings. It was a red-letter day. He is such a gracious and giving person.
Advice for Young People
At the Congress, one speaker, a young man of about 25, was telling the kids that discomfort should be embraced. I had never thought in terms of discomfort being a good thing, but as I examined my past, he was right.
My Humiliating Experience
I remember my palms were sweating as I stood behind the stage of the auditorium of Harrison Hill Elementary in my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, waiting to go onstage. Then, when my name was called, I wanted to turn and run and had a sick feeling in my stomach. It was the annual spelling bee competition in front of the rest of the school and most of the parents, and when it came to my moment in the spotlight, I froze.
I don’t recall the word I was given, but I recall standing there, looking out at all those people, and my mind going blank. I also recall the laughter of all the kids when I was unable to spell a simple word I knew. I was quickly out of the competition, and I was humiliated. But in spite of the failure and discomfort, I was able to grow from the experience.
A Bad Moment on the Radio
Years later, when I was 14, it was my moment in the spotlight again. I was at radio station WITB (Indiana Tech’s college radio station), where I had talked my way into a DJ position, though I had zero experience. I was given a first show on a Saturday morning. Once the other DJ put on his final record, I opened the mic, started the next record, and was ready to talk over the intro.
I had rehearsed it time and time again, but when I turned on the record, it did not play. There was dead air. Then the program director of the radio station was banging on the glass and I’m responding to him: “What is it? What’s wrong?” not realizing all of this was going out over the air. Finally, he ran into the studio, flicked a switch for the record to play, and turned my mic off. That was my first moment on the air. Fortunately, he didn’t fire me, and I eventually made everything work. It’s where I cut my teeth, and it resulted in a career in radio that started in 1969 and continues with my radio magazine, Radio Ink, to this day.
I remember being uncomfortable going into the radio station for the first time, and being uncomfortable pitching the program director for the job, and being uncomfortable doing my first show. Yet had I allowed those moments of discomfort to prevent me from doing those things, I probably would never have had a career of 48 years.
Where Would We Be Without Discomfort?
Discomfort, it turns out, has been a theme in my life. And if you stop and think about the great women and men in history, discomfort is often a theme in their lives as well. We may think of Steve Jobs as a great success, but imagine how uncomfortable it was putting his name on the line and starting a company. Imagine how difficult it was for Neil Armstrong to be crammed into a tin can, sitting on top of a controlled explosion, and being shot into space while risking his life, yet he became the first man on the moon. Think about how uncomfortable it was for Ralph Albert Blakelock or Alfred Bierstadt, who documented the West with paintings but endured great hardships to travel there, to live there among the Native Americans.
A Spectacular Painting Subject
A couple of weeks ago, during my Publisher’s Invitational, I learned of an amazing waterfall I hadn’t seen before. So me and some friends hiked a nine-mile round trip with heavy backpacks, hitchhiking part of the way. But the reward for the discomfort was one of the most stunning waterfalls I’ve seen and painted in my life.
When you think about it, whenever you “put yourself out there” where there is a possibility of being judged, being criticized, possibly bombing and feeling like a fool, you’re uncomfortable.
In fact, as I look backward, things that seem easy now started out with severe discomfort. I’ll not bore you with the hundreds of times I stepped out and felt uncomfortable, but I will say that I’ve noticed it’s a trend.
Listen for Ridicule
In the process I’ve discovered something about myself and about others, and that is when I come up with an idea, decide to do something bold, it’s that discomfort that signals me that it must be worth doing. The more uncomfortable I am, the better the idea is. If I’m telling myself all the reasons I should not do something because it’s a risk, it’s unknown territory, and because it’s a giant inconvenience and possibly subject to ridicule, I find it challenges me more.
I’ve also discovered that the most uncomfortable time is when I share an idea with others and they tell me all the reasons it will fail and it will damage my reputation. Almost every time someone tells me all the reasons I should not do something, it challenges me to prove it can be done, especially if I believe it is an idea whose time has come.
Oh, I’ve bombed more times than I’ve succeeded. It’s never easy, it’s always a little embarrassing, and sometimes it can even be humiliating and financially devastating, yet I’d not feel right about myself if I did not try something because I was uncomfortable or it was a risk.
Advice for Youth
Young people need to know that not everything works out and that you need to be willing to take risks, to be uncomfortable, but you also need to be prepared for the reality that you might fail. I personally like to burn bridges behind me so failure is less of an option when things get tough.
We all need to understand that we each create our own world. We are agents of our own thoughts, actions, and feelings. No one can take that away from us. We each shape the world around us, and we’re each making a conscious decision to suffer or not.
Belief Trumps Discomfort
We must not allow fear of ridicule or failure or pain to get in the way of doing what we believe in. We need to step away from our past and not allow past failures to prevent future successes by making us avoid discomfort.
Live in the here and the now. Nothing outside the present moment matters, because the next breath could be our last. I was reminded of this just yesterday, when the life of a young and vibrant friend of a friend was snuffed out instantly in a traffic accident.
We tend to get attached to the things in our pasts, and those records play themselves over and over again. Our brains are trained to protect us, so our automatic negative thoughts kick in to protect us from pain and discomfort.
Life is a miracle, but avoiding discomfort can prevent that miracle from being everything it could be. One bold move could be the big moment of your life that will change the world and maybe become the one thing you’re remembered for. Not doing it because of fear should not be an option.
An Icon Shares Insecurities
Yesterday I spoke with a man I have placed on a pedestal for the past 20 years. He is the most well connected man I know; he can pick up the phone and contact Bill Gates or Elon Musk, yet he shared with me yesterday that he has suffered a life of insecurity and negative thoughts and that he has always had to push them out and not listen to them. I was shocked to hear it, but in a way pleased, because I experience the same battle.
What World-Changers Do
I’ve decided that the people who change the world, the people who build giant organizations, the people who invent amazing products, the people who do works the world will always remember, are people exactly like you and me. The only difference is that they push aside the negative thoughts and push ahead, knowing it’s going to be difficult, uncomfortable, and risky.
Though we may look at them as people with a gift or something special, I’ve seen too many examples of everyday folks who get mad enough or inspired enough to make change happen. The difference between them and us is their willingness to accept pain.
I see these images of six-pack abs and perfect bodies on men my age and realize the only difference between them and me is their willingness to put in the time and the pain.
This morning as you set out on your day, ask yourself three things…
What am I avoiding because I’m uncomfortable?
What ideas do I have that I know I need to do that I’ve not done for fear of pain or discomfort?
What’s the worst that can happen if I do them?
The worst that can happen for any of us is loss of life. Embarrassment, loss of income, loss of friendships don’t compare to loss of life.
Yet which is worse? Spending your life looking back and wishing you had tried, or spending your life knowing you have gone for it? Maybe you succeed, maybe you don’t, but at least you know you did not allow pain or discomfort to get in your way.
You possess something in your heart that no one on this earth has. There is something inside of you that you’re sitting on to avoid pain. If you can stop focusing on discomfort and start focusing on what could be, you too will change the world.