Reflection by Danielle Webber, 14 January 2018
While preparing for this service I watched a TED talks video entitled Why Comfort will ruin your life by Bill Eckstrom, a leadership coach based out of University of Nevada.
Eckstrom describes research that he did on the science of discomfort and growth. After being fired from a job where he had become comfortable and secure in upper management Eckstrom began discerning how discomfort can challenge us to grow or to shrink. His research finds that there are four environments that promote or hinder growth – what he calls growth rings, that run into each other, and overlap one another. The first environment is called stagnation – obviously not much is happening here, people are required to follow certain steps, have certain permissions, and have a consistent repetition in their lives. The last environment is Chaos – and yet again obviously no growth happens here, because there is zero possibility of input or predictability. There is no room for growth because there is no control of outcomes.
When this video was produced Bill Eckstrom argued that governments were likely to be the stagnation environments, and events such as natural disasters would cause someone to be thrown into chaos environments. Although with the way that world politics is playing out these days it seems as though they fall into the chaos category as well.
The two environments that lead to growth, in Eckstrom’s diagram are order and complexity. Order is the slow and easy path towards growth. Things move along as they are supposed to, step by step to the end of time. Things can grow, but it is in a comfortable way, and in easy slow moving fashion. When things start to shake up, things move in a direction that is no longer comfortable Eckstrom suggests we have moved into the ring of complexity. And this is where his catch phrase “What makes you comfortable can ruin you, and only in a state of discomfort can you continue to grow.” In the environment of complexity, we are asking ourselves to step into that discomfort, to engage with the meaning and the triggers that put us there, and we are given the opportunity to grow.
But what does it mean to step into discomfort? Why would one want to do that? Why would anybody choose to struggle and arduously move through life in discomfort.
In 2009 I was married. I had been in challenging relationship, where communication between my partner and I was not always easy, and where emotional violence had occurred in consistent patterns. But I had made a commitment to my partner, and wanted to live into that promise. And so instead of choosing a different type of discomfort, a different form of changing up the routine and control that governed my life, I decided to accept his marriage proposal and start planning a wedding. My mundane and routine life was changed around because now I was planning a large ceremony and celebration for a relationship that was unstable.
Unfortunately, as I look back on my 21-year-old self, I recognize now that I had made the wrong decision. Although the relationship had lasted 6 years, the marriage lasted for 16 months. I put myself into a state of discomfort, being in an unstable relationship and instead of shrinking away from the opportunity to out grow the relationship I stated in that sense of comfort and order. It was not a stable relationship, but it was something that I knew and it was a situation that I had some amount of control in.
We stumble into these places, where growth is necessary to move forward, and yet it is challenging and uncomfortable, and so far away from what we know that it is often to scary to move into, let alone to summon up on our own. Growing Pains. The uncontrollable, throbbing ache that comes at the most inopportune times, and that need to be dealt with, that won’t be ignored.
I remember having growing pains as a child. I would usually get them in my calves, and they usually came along as I was sleeping, or just as I was drifting off. Suddenly my legs would cramp up, and I would pull my knees into my chest, and cry out in agony. But no matter how tightly I would squeeze together into a ball, and close my eyes and cry and plead, the only thing that would make my pain go away was when one of my parents would massage my legs, and slowly rub and ease away the aches.
Growing into our selves, the authentic and genuine selves that we each were meant to be is much the same way as it was all of those years ago with my leg cramps. At times the pain of growth is unbearable, we scrunch up into a tight ball, not wanting to let go of the me who is here, and stretch out into the me who has yet to come.
The story is not far off from Polkadot, and their sister attempting to discover their identities, it is often a struggle to figure out who we are and how we want to be in the world.
As I continued a relationship, and furthered a commitment that was not true to my self, it was as if I was squishing myself into a tight ball, holding onto my aches and pains, and not allowing myself to stretch out into further possibility and deeper change.
Holding on with all of the control that I could muster, all of the strength I had left, in hopes of finding equilibrium, in hopes of easing away the pain. But, if we are lucky, we will soon discover that what would be best for us is to ask for help, and stretch through the challenges of growth.
As Bill Eckstrom continues to describe his theory of growth he states that there are three different triggers that can cause discomfort and push people into the complexity growth ring. Discomfort can be thrust upon you, like being fired from a long term job. You can choice discomfort for yourself, by deciding to challenge yourself and grow. Or someone can help us get there, to push and coax and encourage us into and through the discomfort – this is the role of parents, teachers, coaches, mentors, ministers, and many other people who challenge us to move through our discomfort, who help us engage our discomfort and who want more from us, and so they walk through our discomfort with us.
It wasn’t until I could no longer live with the discomfort that my relationship brought to me that I was finally able to leave it. I had held and squeezed and clung on for so long, trying to refuse the change that was right before me, trying to refuse to see that I had grown out of the relationship. But finally I had to let go. Finally, I turned to those who I knew would support me the most, and asked for their help in stretching through my growing pains.
Can you think of a time when you have stretched through a growing pain, when you have stepped into the struggles you have been wrestling with, and allowed the discomfort to over take you? How did you manage through that struggle? How did you overcome your discomfort and find a new sense of equilibrium? Who was there to help you massage out the kinks? Who had you wished would have been there?
Take a moment in silence, and then as you feel comfortable, perhaps answer one of these questions with someone close to you. I will ring the singing bowl when our silence is over, and then again when you should change speakers.
I believe I am beginning to feel my way through a growing pain. I received an unexpected piece of news at the end of November, informing me that a committee of my peers and my colleagues believed that I needed another year of formations, another year of deeper delving and commitment in my desires to becoming a minister, before I will be welcomed into fellowship.
The process of becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister is a long and windy path. On top of the Master’s degree in Divinity, candidates for ministry are also required to be sponsored by a congregation who knows them and their pathway towards the decision of becoming a minister. They must go through rigorous psychological evaluations to determine that they are capable of taking on such leadership. They are required to complete a 3 to 5-month placement in a hospital offering chaplaincy to patients and family members. And we must complete 1 year of internship underneath a fellowshipped minister. After completing all of these tasks we must prepare a packet, with all of the results and evaluations, test scores and critical feedback that we have received, and we must declare ourselves competent in several different categories. We then go to Boston for an interview with this committee. Candidates for ministry are given 1 hour, to preach, and answer questions about themselves and about our faith, in order for the committee to determine our readiness to become a minister. At my interview in November the committee determined that I needed one more year. This news took the breath from my lungs, I as immediately thrown into a state of discomfort and complexity. But as I work my way through the recommendations, and as I talk to colleagues and mentors about new areas of growth, new areas of understanding - I am stretching my way through the growing pains. Recognizing that clenching onto the discomfort and holding in the pain is not helpful, I have begun to ask for support to ease through the growth.
Download The Pains of Growing