In defense of being uncomfortable

By Laura Handly

(Daily Collegian File Photo)
(Daily Collegian File Photo)

The first night of a year that I would spend in Istanbul, I sent a desperate text message to a good friend of mine. I said that nothing was as I had imagined it would be and that I could not possibly stay in this strange place for so long. A year later, that message is now a sweet reminder that discomfort is one of the best catalysts for growth.

If you have ever read the dystopian novel “The Giver,” you have been warned about the danger of feeling no pain – without pain, it is possible to become sheltered from reality. It’s easy to become insulated in the Pioneer Valley, we surround ourselves with like-minded people and are protected from many of the harsher aspects of human experience. Although it’s natural to seek out this kind of comfort, life should incorporate some moments of risk as well.

The message I sent to my friend was genuine: Turkey was nothing like I expected it to be, and I stood out a lot. One time, I fell over on a bus as it swerved through traffic and had to get off at the next stop because everyone was staring at me in shock. Another time, I was with a friend who used her head to block the subway door from closing, which was not at all well received by the public. I often found myself wearing a T-shirt when everyone else around me was wearing a winter coat. Now people ask me if I was afraid of a terrorist attack while abroad, but honestly I was primarily fearful of the next time I would make a fool of myself in a public place.

Living in Turkey taught me a lot about my privilege. Never before had I been visibly different from the majority of people around me, and it was sometimes exhausting to feel a constant gaze. So many people experience this on a daily basis in the United States, but I simply could not understand it until I felt it myself. Sharing a city with thousands of Syrian refugees further complicated my time abroad, demanding that I deeply consider the effects of my own country at war.

Experiencing discomfort will subtly change you. It will show you your boundaries and that you are able to gently push those boundaries further in most situations. It’s something that is both humbling and human. Being uncomfortable teaches you compassion for those who feel the same and gratitude for those times and places in which you are at ease. Taking risks will make you braver as, with each new experience, you continue on: sometimes to thrive, sometimes to struggle, but always with a new story.

You don’t need to move abroad to feel uncomfortable. Growth is possible any time you explore new interests, friendships or classes. Growing up in a recession, many of us have the tendency play it safe. So many of us feel the pressure to find a good job after graduation and if we don’t, we feel like we’ve failed. That’s a really hard standard to have, especially when we don’t seem to know ourselves very well yet.

We should encourage ourselves and our friends to explore new possibilities and to take risks. It’s okay to try different careers or different majors and in fact, it’s probably the best gift we can give to ourselves. Seeking out these experiences and attempting to determine what we enjoy and ways we can grow are essential aspects to living a rich life. Discomfort is temporary and will make you more attuned to the world and your constantly shifting role in it.

Laura Handly is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].