2015, 2016, life lessons, math, meaningfulness, new year, psychology, resolutions, shared experiences, speech, stereotypes

Why We Need To Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

Pushing Past The Comfort Zone

“Because I said so,” was a common explanation I heard growing up. As was, “As long as you live under this roof you’ll live under my rules.” Whether it was making my bed or going to a dinner party none of my friends were going to, there was no negotiating with my mom. I frequently had to do things I didn’t want to do. That’s just how it was.

Life looked something like taking a math class I didn’t want to take “because it’s a pre-requisite,” going to piano class “because it is Wednesday,” and going to a school dance “because socializing is good for you.”

But things are different now. One of the biggest privileges of being a young adult (with nobody to take care of but myself) is that I have the freedom to say and do whatever I want. While I do have obligations and responsibilities like paying my student loans and going to work, they are minimal, and most of them are ones that I have chosen for myself.

How many times in 2015 did you choose to do something that you didn’t want to do? Not something like going to the dentist or doing your laundry, but something more profound.

I won’t pry, but I’ll tell you that my answer is “not often.”

In the five years since I’ve joined the real world, I’ve aggressively curated my life to be one that I’m comfortable living. It’s worth mentioning that while these years have certainly come with my share disappointment and hardship, I’m referring here to the aspects of my life I’m able to control. I found a job that makes me happy; I’ve cultivated a community of people who I appreciate and who appreciate me; I eat what I like; I exercise at my desired frequency; I dedicate my free time to activities I enjoy; I spend and don’t spend my money the way I deem appropriate; I have the conversations I want to have; I am selectively social; and I rarely go out of my way to do things I don’t want to do. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. In fact, this way of life has allowed me to get to know myself and what I value. Perhaps I am lucky or perhaps I am just lucky enough to find the silver linings.

Given this hyper-conscious way of living, I was surprised to realize that in the last month, I’ve been in multiple situations that make me uncomfortable. Voluntarily.

For example, at the beginning of the month, I had to give a speech to my entire office and their external guests. When I volunteered for the gig a few months prior, I did so considering only the speech-writing aspect (something I’m very comfortable with) and overlooking the speech-giving aspect (something that scares me half to death). In the hours leading up to my speech, I couldn’t think or eat. My heart had descended into my stomach. Despite being armed with a strongly written speech, I feared that walking up to the podium would be coupled with a sudden onset of amnesia or paralysis. The blend of anxiety, fear, and excitement was one that I hadn’t felt since the days of childhood piano recitals.

For another example, just a week later, I was at a ceremony sitting next to someone I haven’t spoken to in years. Distracting myself with my phone (something I’m comfortable with), I happened upon a tweet to test your algebra skills. Though I detest mental math, and math in general, I clicked the link and leaned over to this neighbor. “Want to try doing these together?” I asked. He obliged, and we started reading the first word problem. As the pang of stereotype-threat entered my brain, I almost immediately regretted my invitation to jointly tackle a type of math problem I purposely haven’t attempted in fifteen years (something that makes me uncomfortable), with a person I haven’t spoken to in five (something that scares me half to death). But there was no turning back.

The hours leading up to the speech and the split-second in which I offered up math problems — the moments  I spent at the cusp of comfort and discomfort — are some of my biggest moments of growth in recent memory.

This makes me wonder, could the aforementioned “privilege” of curated comfort actually be doing me a disservice? Looking back, I have to admit that my mom’s “because I said so” policy was instrumental in making me the well-rounded individual I am today.

The speech was successfully delivered and the algebra problems were eventually solved. But more importantly, both experiences required me to use my brain in ways that I rarely choose to do. There was a thrill in processing something new and a delightful mystery in awaiting the outcome. Stretching past what was comfortable was a beautiful challenge, and once on the other side, I didn’t regret how it happened.

The nice thing about a comfort zone is that it doesn’t have to be fixed. It can expand as we find more opportunities to tiptoe past the bounds of our status quo. The hard part is pushing yourself out of your comfort zone in the first place.

While those of us who consider ourselves comfortable should also consider ourselves lucky, there is something to be said about being too comfortable. After a point, comfort can be just as debilitating as a lack thereof. I wish for you to be as comfortable as you wish to be. But in this new year, find ways to make yourself just slightly uncomfortable.

They say that life starts at the end of your comfort zone. For me, 2016 will start there as well. Here’s to finding new joy, new challenges, and new experiences outside the realms of what we already know.

change, dogs, meaningfulness, memories, memory, psychology

How My Dog’s Death Changed the Way I Make Memories

My dog died eight months ago. Though she was cremated the next day, I can still see her whenever I wish — on Twitter, Instagram, or my camera roll. Just a glimpse and I can feel her presence. Smell and hear her. A single photo brings back a wealth of memories that are pleasantly nostalgic and abundantly beautiful.

When she was a puppy, I got her a wooden box and patterned it with clouds and dog bones. I used the box for her favorite dog treats. After she died, I kept the box as a “souvenir,” replacing the dog treats with her collar and dog tags.

IMG_6752I’ve only opened the box twice since her death, once seven months ago and once this past weekend. Both times, I convulsed, collapsing to the floor in tears, within minutes. By jingling her collar and tags, I could actually hear the sound of her moving, which made her absence that much more tangible. The physicality of these objects emphasized the disgustingly painful memory of her death.

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happiness, meaningfulness, New York Times, psychology

Our Search for Meaning Means Nothing and Everything At the Same Time

As a child, I loved Valentine’s Day. Or rather, I loved Valentine’s Day cards. For me, the day was not just a day, but an event centered around giving and receiving cards. On the days leading up to the big day, we decorated white paper bag “mailboxes” to place on our desks, purchased a themed Valentine card pack, and wrote names on each card. On the day of, we went around the room placing cards in each mailbox while eating heart-shaped cookies. Giving cards was not mandatory, but it was mandatory to give cards to everyone if you chose to give any at all. That afternoon, we skipped home with our mailboxes full of cards. Once home, I dumped all the cards out onto my carpet, carefully sifting through them until I found the most important one — the one from my crush. My heart would jump as I separated it from the pile. This, the most meaningful card.

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blavity, change, Crossroads Cafe, Foreword, friendship, meaningfulness, Medium, Nevada, Nick Kristof, San Francisco, time

How Little Things Create Big Change

Three years ago, I was assigned to mentor a remarkable individual. She was entering the leadership program I had recently completed.

Our conversations started as obligatory 1:1s during which we covered a list of topics (and I grappled with the self-inflicted pressure of providing life-changing advice). Somewhere along the way, these meetings changed. They no longer materialized from recurring calendar invitations but instead from a genuine desire for one another’s company. Our relationship transformed from one of professional commitment to one of mutual mentorship. Of friendship.

Though the change in our relationship came naturally, it didn’t happen immediately. It took time. It took little things bike rides and homemade brunch. Little drops in the bucket like being dependable and making an effort. The transformation from acquaintance to friend is not an easy one, but it’s well worth it.

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childhood, happiness, meaningfulness, optimism, photography

Happiness feels a lot like sorrow

Several weeks ago, I overheard a painfully morbid conversation between my grandma and grandpa. “What is the point anymore? When I was younger, the kids were starting families and I wanted to be able to help them and watch our grandchildren grow up. But now, there is just no point. Why should I continue on this miserable diet?” My grandma, who has been living with diabetes for a while now and has more recently suffered from a few heart attacks, was expressing to my grandfather her unhappiness with a tasteless diet but more importantly, that she didn’t feel it was worth it. Though her statement was most likely an inflammatory way for her to express her frustration and nothing more, my grandpa and I stepped in to remind her how much she meant to us. Her unhappiness with the diet has not changed over the years. But it is the opportunity cost, the “worth-it-ness” of the sacrifice, with which she is grappling. An unhappiness that she was once happy with has now become less desirable.

Around the time of this unsettling conversation, I read this article in The Atlantic about how there is more to life than being happy. In what I found to be one of the more meaningful (ha ha) journalistic pieces I’ve read in a while, the article creates several distinctions between happiness and meaning, one of which being that happiness is a fleeting emotion while meaningfulness is more everlasting, bridging your past and future. Happiness is categorized as shallow while meaning transcends the self. People pursuing happiness are takers, whereas people like my grandma, who identify some underlying meaning, are givers.

For the past month, due to a variety of reasons not even worth describing, I have been extremely unhappy in one aspect of my life, to the point where I would occasionally experience physiological reactions, for example heaviness in my chest and well, tears. Not knowing how to deal with this unhappiness internally, I let it pervade into all my most meaningful relationships. Every conversation with people I love, the friends and family who surround me, had turned into a session for me to unload my unhappiness. After each of these conversations, I would only feel worse about the darkness I had introduced into the other person’s life, even for a moment. It was only after I spent 1 hour complaining to my dad on what happened to be his 29th wedding anniversary that I realized what I was doing. At that point, I decided that I being happy in a particular moment was not worth burdening the meaning around me. Stemming mostly from anger, my desire to be happy in the moment was clouding the beauty I see in my life by means of my relationships and my future.

This morning, as I was going for a Sunday stroll with a childhood friend, we discussed a variety of topics, including the art of photography. “I had been trying to understand for a while when a photograph is considered good,” she told me. “Then I took this photography course and my teacher helped kind of shed light on that.” According to her professor, that which we see in photographs only scratches the surface of what a photographer is trying to convey. The art lies in the story behind the photographs that are and aren’t shared — the meaning behind what we see and don’t see.

Somewhat not surprisingly, I’ve been unable to forget the statement my grandmother made the other day. And while an obvious outcome is that I’ve been more outward in showing her how much she means to me, a side effect has been for me to reflect on what is meaningful in my life, what will connect my past to my future. Something, in my opinion, more people my age should do.

If you think about it, happiness is a lot like a photo. It’s a simple, surface-level emotion. And especially as young-twenty-somethings, many of us feel entitled to happiness, probably because college paints that disillusioning surface-level picture of studying what you love in order to do something you love and well, be happy. Of course, as someone who loves to be happy, I am not at all undermining the necessity for happiness in our lives. I am merely suggesting that we also take some time to think past the emotion.

Anyway, if you’re like me and find meaning in making the people around you happy, well, we will all end up being happy anyway.