Working on the very early stages of a new book — the stage where nothing is clear yet, and my brain feels like it’s trying to catch rays of light with a fishnet.
This is extremely uncomfortable. From time to time (like every ten minutes) I have to get up from my chair, leave the computer, and walk around the room, just to let the mental ache back off.
And then, of course, I have to go sit down again. And let the mental ache resume. (Like Giles Corey’s last words, in The Crucible, as his torturers try to wring a confession from him by slowly crushing him with heavy rocks: “More weight.”)
Is it worth it? Absolutely.
Does it ache? Positively.
How many times have you heard it said that to accomplish great things, you have to “get out of your comfort zone”? This has never sounded right to me. As bits of advice go, I think it’s flawed in all sorts of ways.
For one thing, I don’t think comfort is a zoned-off area you can zip yourself into, like a sleeping bag.
In fact, I don’t think it exists, this waterproof air bubble, this germ-free decontamination chamber, this saferoom of the mind that keeps all discomfort and unease firmly locked outside its perimeter, and inside of which you can count on feeling cozy and comfy and unthreatened.
There is no zone small enough, no chamber sealed tightly enough, to keep discomfort out. No matter how tight the seal, discomfort is an expert at seeping right in through the cracks.
Or maybe it wasn’t “out there” at all. Maybe it was right here with us on the inside all along.
And even if there were a comfort zone, I’m not so sure about the “getting outside” part.
The idea that to be successful means getting out of yourself can sound curiously attractive. There’s something exciting and challenging about the idea that the path to growth and accomplishment lies in stepping away from your everyday self. Too often, though, that path just leads to a place where you end up feeling forced and inauthentic.
It can actually be a lot harder to step bravely into the middle of the circle and fully be yourself.
I think what happens to people who achieve great things is not that they go looking for discomfort “out there” to vanquish — like a knight of olde, seeking a dragon to joust — so much as they change their relationship with discomfort.
Jousting the dragon within.
And this isn’t just about writing. Ask any Navy SEAL what was the biggest battle they fought in the effort to survive Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training (BUD/S), surely one of the most fiendish experiences of discomfort known to man, and he’ll tell you: it wasn’t the long days and nights on end of no sleep, or the hours immersed in the frigid nighttime Pacific, or miles of running in heavy boots in the sand.
It was the struggle with that voice inside that said, “I can’t do this. I’ll never make it. I should quit.”
All I know is this:
When I get up from my desk and walk around for a few minutes, what I’m doing is stepping briefly out of my discomfort zone. And sooner or later I will climb back in — because that’s where the real work happens.
(Blue Dragon by Sandara)