I was recently asked by my good friend and mentor Larry Allswede to write a blog post on the concept of comfort. When should a person be comfortable? When should they be uncomfortable? And where is the balance between the two?
In thinking on comfort, the first place that my mind came to was the quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin –
”Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security [comfort] will deserve neither and lose both.”
Well. That’s a pretty bold statement on when it’s not okay to be comfortable! Comfort that is gained through the sacrifice of liberty is clearly a no-go. But Benjamin Franklin didn’t live in the time of Facebook and Twitter, cable television and Siri in our pockets. Benjamin Franklin was actually foreshadowing exactly what our society has done since the start of the industrial revolution! Benjamin Franklin was essentially predicting, by the warning that he gave, that American society would give up its liberty to gain security! I’d stand up and be outraged at his audacity, but my lay-z-boy is far too comfortable, and the next episode of The Jersey Shore is about to come on…
So. Benjamin Franklin correctly predicts that America will give up its liberty to be comfortable. But what he didn’t prepare us for was the fact that by nature of giving up our liberty for comfort, we’ve stopped teaching the principles that help us secure and protect that liberty. So, what are five things we can do to relearn those principles? Well, some of it might involve becoming a little bit uncomfortable…
Learn to read…again.
I’ve heard before that the majority of Americans never read a single book after they end their formal education. That’s kind of staggering, but it does help to explain a lot! It has often been said that not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers. If our society is going to reclaim its liberty and become great again, we HAVE to read! And I don’t mean reading romance novels or fantasy books, either. We should read to become an informed public and to grow personally. I’d recommend anything from Orrin Woodward’s newest book “Resolved: 13 Resolutions for Life” to Chris Brady’s latest, “Rascal” to Tim Marks’s “The Voyage of a Viking”.
No matter where you start, and no matter how uncomfortable it is, reclaiming liberty in our country is going to mean reading. 15 minutes a night, 30 minutes a night…it’s all about small victories!
Learn to harness the power of communities…again.
Stephen Covey talks about the power of synergy in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” If you haven’t read it, I’ll summarize. Synergy is where 1 + 1 = greater than 2. Especially in American culture, we’re taught to be independent islands of self-sufficient machines. But men are not machines. And humans were not created to be independent. Rather, we were created to be interdependent- to work with each other carrying equal loads and utilizing our unique strengths and abilities in a- you got it- synergistic relationship. I was at event recently listening to Kirk Birtles speak when he noted that humans were created to be social creatures, but somewhere along the line we became porcupines, so now every time we try to huddle up together, we just end up poking each other! And isn’t it true?
But I’ll tell you what: the best and most productive conversations I’ve ever had have come from group conversations, debates, and discussions. As Marc Militello said later at that same event, “anything big happens with a small group of people.” So we need to learn to work in and develop communities again. Even if it means getting a little bit uncomfortable and taking some pokes sometimes!
We’ve got to get comfortable growing.
It was Oliver Wendell Holmes who said that “the mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.” Reclaiming our liberty will require bigger and better ideas. How do I know? Well, I had some help from Albert Einstein, who believed that “the significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” How do we grow? Well, the entire basis of The Mental Fitness Challenge happens to be growth! And the great thing is, it’s set up in just the right way to grow. The first module focuses on private achievements, the second on public achievements, or performance, and the third on leadership achievements. This is right in line with what Stephen Covey talks about as well. When we grow, private achievements have to come before public achievements, just like we have to build a foundation before we can build a house. Of course, ALL growth is uncomfortable. We can’t grow within our comfort zone. We’re like goldfish- we’ll only grow to the size of our bowl, and our bowl is where we’re comfortable. So we have to keep increasing the size of our bowl so that we grow, and…well…you get the point, eh? =]
We’ve got to learn to get comfortable being mentored.
Growing up, I struggled a lot with self-esteem, which is probably something that you’ve only experienced if you’re also a human being like me. Any time someone would say something to me, I’d be on the defensive. A lot of that comes from trust issues, which largely came from the low self-esteem. But that’s so common in America these days! We believe so little in ourselves that we’re a split hair away from total breakdown, so we’ve always got our guard up. For the longest time, I found it next to impossible to take constructive criticism, and there are times when I still struggle with that. But one of the things that I quickly learned after watching the way that my mentors like Larry and Stacey Allswede and Beth Metz worked with their mentors is that I would need to get comfortable being mentored. Now, after years of very uncomfortable work, I find it very comfortable to sit down with Larry or Beth, and I can greet the question, “is it alright if I’m a little tough on you?” with a wry smile and the only response I know now to that question: “absolutely.” Through seeing the character of people like Larry and Beth and them knowing how to build trust with me, I’ve become extremely comfortable going through the uncomfortable process of mentoring and being exposed to my blind spots.
We’ve got to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Growth and change and facing brutal reality will always be uncomfortable. But you can become okay with that. You just have to make the decision. Roy Disney said that “it’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” If you want to become better, you will make the decision to do so. As you grow and chance, you should develop an understanding of your purpose, which is actually what the first part of The Mental Fitness Challenge is all about. Once you know your purpose, you develop vision. You see where you’re going. If there’s one thing that I’m especially proud of about myself, it’s that I’m very rarely upset by much of anything. My friends and co-workers have commented on this, and my only response when they ask why I’m always so happy is, “when you know where you’re going, you know that every day is one more step toward your victory.”
That principle was honed through my last semester of college at Michigan State University. I remember sitting down for a mentoring session with Larry and Holger Spiewak (another friend and mentor) toward the beginning of that last semester. At the time, I was looking at a schedule that included four upper-level courses, I was writing my final thesis, I was a Resident Assistant on campus, I was working three other on-campus jobs, I was President and Vice President of Training and Recruitment for a new on-campus student organization, an active member of a community committee through the University, a Brother of a Fraternity on campus, and I was trying to build a business along with all of that! When we drew up my schedule, we discovered that I could fit in most of it if I went to sleep at 2am and woke up at 6am every weekday, and caught up on sleep on the weekends by going to sleep at 2am and waking up at 8am. I looked at the schedule drawn up and said to Holger, “what can I do about this? I’m busy 20 hours a day during the week and 18 on the weekend! Can I even do that?” His response was, “well, I did that for three years and it got me out of my job.” And he was right. Holger had built his business while working full-time as an engineer and had retired after just over three years while he was still in his thirties. That sealed the deal for me. I knew that if I wanted to succeed, I’d have to become comfortable being uncomfortable. That last semester was one of the best times of my life so far, and I’m glad I didn’t cut anything out! It sure as heck wasn’t easy, and it was almost never comfortable, but I had a lot of help and support from friends, family, and teammates, and I sure feel comfortable now looking back and knowing that it was the best experience I could have had in my last semester.
So what’s it all mean?
There’s a French proverb that says “there is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.” I submit to you this: even a cursory glance at our society today would tell the casual onlooker that there are some things that need changing. Each and every one of you (of us) has the ability to be a part of that change. It will not be comfortable. It will require growth and stretching and facing the brutal reality. But. If you do choose to get comfortable being uncomfortable, I promise you this: you will lay your head down on the comfortable pillow of a clear conscience each and every night knowing that you’ve done your best, emptied the clip, and charged the hill with everything you’ve got to secure your liberty and that of our society.
I’ve heard that there’s a community growing looking for a million people who are willing to grow, change, and get uncomfortable for the opportunity to change millions of lives, alter the course of our nation, and change the future for the better. So, why not you? Why not join us? As Mel Fisher would say, “Today’s the Day!!!”