How To Make People Feel Uncomfortable

How To Make People Feel Uncomfortable
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There's something about a foot massage that just washes away the day's worries

There’s something about a foot massage that just washes away the day’s worries

As the youngest of three children, my life has included a fair amount of spoiling.  Of course, this is for good reason as it’s the youngest in the family who are the most treasured, right?  Still nothing in my middle class upbringing could have prepared me for the spoiling I received In my late 20s.  For 4 years while living in the Philippines, I had the pleasure of employing a maid, nanny, gardener, and occasional driver.  This means four 4 years I didn’t touch the laundry…nope…and didn’t clean the bathroom once.  On the random occasion I needed to find a cleaning supply, I had to go through the trouble of searching though the maid closet.  I also didn’t mow the lawn or tend to our beautiful flower garden.  Our wonderful nanny would stay late on Fridays allowing Lisa and I time for a weekly date night, which usually included dinner with friends, perhaps a foot massage, or some other fun activity.  What 20-something gets to live this way?  Needless to say, it was an incredibly comfortable existence, and one in which my fellow international educators (at least in developing Asia) are very familiar.

…it’s in our moments of great discomfort that we are our most creative, adaptable, daring, and desperate to learn.

Flash forward to today, and you’ll find that our entourage has shrunk considerably.  This, I suppose, is a good thing as our 600 square foot apartment lacks maid-quarters, a flower garden, and the weekly date nights have decreased to a trickle.  Besides access to Costco and faster internet, it’s fair to say that our life in Honolulu is considerably less comfortable then our former life overseas.  Boohoo, right?  I’m sure you don’t have too much sympathy for me, nor should you.  We moved by choice, forgoing our comfortable life in the Philippines, for the opportunity to grow as a leader at my current school.

The move to Honolulu, has taught me the important life lesson that it’s in our moments of great discomfort that we are our most creative, adaptable, daring, and desperate to learn.  For example, in the past 2 years I’ve learned more about the housing market in Honolulu, as well as potential options for building a home, even a lot of research around building homes from shipping containers.  This, in case you weren’t aware, is because Honolulu has one of the highest costs of living in the world (hence the 600 sq ft).  In my desperation and discomfort to find a solution to our family’s needs I’ve met with contractors, city officials, and other creatives to find a solution.  Although I’ve been unable to find the answer yet, it’s the tinge of discomfort that keep my brain spinning different ideas.

The same could be said about the discomfort I experience as a young leader.  If you function as a leader in any capacity you understand that no matter what training you’ve undergone, nothing can prepare you for the real  lessons that come from experience.  There’s nothing like an angry phone call from a parent, or a roll of the eyes from someone you’ve been tasked to lead to create some healthy discomfort.  Yet, it’s in these moments of discomfort that I take my biggest leaps forward.

I was reminded of this lesson a few weeks back as I listened to Polar Explorer Ben Saunders share his perspective in a recent TEDTalk, saying:

…our lives today are safer and more comfortable than they have ever been. There certainly isn’t much call for explorers nowadays. My career advisor at school never mentioned it as an option. If I wanted to know, for example, how many stars were in the Milky Way, how old those giant heads on Easter Island were, most of you could find that out right now without even standing up. And yet, if I’ve learned anything in nearly 12 years now of dragging heavy things around cold places, it is that true, real inspiration and growth only comes from adversity and from challenge, from stepping away from what’s comfortable and familiar and stepping out into the unknown. In life, we all have tempests to ride and poles to walk to, and I think metaphorically speaking, at least, we could all benefit from getting outside the house a little more often, if only we could summon up the courage. I certainly would implore you to open the door just a little bit and take a look at what’s outside.

Gotta a couple minutes?  Then check out Ben Saunders’ full TEDTalk:


Chef Tony

Chef Tony with his glorious knives. Oh how I wanted a hole in my countertop like Tony to discard food waste so sauvely…maybe one day.

Still, in our tight quarters and nanny-less life it can be easy to dream about the past and its abundant comforts…but at what costs?  Follow me through another analogy.  I love to cook.  It’s my way of working with my hands and unwinding at the end of each day.  All good cooks know that their most important tool is a sharp knife.  With a sharp knife a cook can filet a fish, cut a tomato, and saw through a hammer (thank you Chef Tony).  Therefore you’d assume I’d keep my knives sharp.  Nope.  Instead I continue to use them over and over until they grow so dull that I can hardly cut through a chicken breast.  Of course, it’s not until after I go through the process of sharpening the knife that I truly understand how dull it’s become.  Inevitably, the drastic change in sharpness leads me to nearly cutting off one of my fingers.  For it’s through the discomfort of running the knife across a sharpening stone (as well as the mental discomfort of taking time out to sharpen the knife) that the knife reaches it full potential.  Moreover, dullness comes on slowly, hardly noticeable until contrasted with true sharpness.

So this is all to say, does your life include enough discomfort to make you sharp?  And are you creating enough discomfort in the lives of others to make them sharper?  As a leader it can be easy to interpret the eye rolls of teachers, or the angry phone calls from parents as a sign of inability, or that you’re doing your job wrong, and maybe you are, but they can also be a sign that you’re creating an appropriate amount of discomfort in their lives to help them grow, which of course is your job…maybe your most important job.  Although it’s probably not written in your job description, it might be worth considering adding  Chief of Discomfort to your job title.  Therefore, It’s my hope for my students, teachers, and even my own family that I help them experience just the right amount of discomfort.

What do you think?  Are you aiming to make everyone happy or are you helping to create some healthy discomfort? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and help support Learn[ed]Leadership by signing up for our monthly (or so) Newsletter (click here), or Like our Facebook page, and follow us on Twitter.  Oh and if you’ve made it this far you might as well scroll back up to the top and rate this blog out of 5 stars.

Author: Andy Aldrich

Andy is a founder of Learn[ed]Leadership as well as a school administrator at Punahou School in Honolulu, HI. In addition to pontificating on ideas in education, Andy stays busy chasing after his daughter and impressing his wife with his big muscles.

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