Decades ago at the newspaper where I worked in human resources, its late publisher, John Ginn wrote a column entitled, “The Usefulness of Discomfort.” My previous blog,Embrace the Chaos” outlined how essential discomfort is to success and growth.

I thought Ginn’s column was the perfect follow-up in the midst of Summer, a season known to bring discomfort.

“A young friend of mine told me the other day he is quitting his new job. It’s his first job after graduating from college. He doesn’t yet have another. He’s only been on this job about two months. I know his boss, who tells me my friend has been performing well.

So why is he quitting? There are times when the job makes him feel uptight and uncomfortable.

“Sometimes, when problems come up, my heart seems to race faster, and I feel kind of nervous.”

Does he think he’s having health problems because of his reaction to his job?

“No, as a matter of fact I like the people I work with and the company. But the job isn’t exactly what I was hoping for.

At this point in our conversation I began to worry that my young friend was making a mistake he would later regret. And I wanted to help him. But how? I concluded fairly quickly it wouldn’t help to tell him stories about jobs I had had digging ditches and cleaning box cars when I was about his age. I have learned with my three sons that such stories really don’t sound as convincing to the listener as they do to the teller.

But I very much wanted to help him. So I mumbled something about hoping he would keep in mind that all jobs have elements that can make people nervous and uptight. I tried to explain at the best solution to such problems often wasn’t to quit the job but to teach yourself to cope with a certain level of discomfort. I rambled on a bit about my feeling that a certain amount of discomfort in work and other aspects of life is essential to learning and growth. But it was clear then that nothing I was saying was likely to help my friend. That frustrated me.

Since our conversation I have wondered how I might have been more effective. And the whole experience has caused me to think a bit more about the usefulness of discomfort in our lives. I kept having this uneasy feeling that somewhere in the last few years I had encountered some thoughts that were especially on-target for my friend’s situation.

It finally occurred to me. I had read an article several years ago by John W. Gardner. As you may recall, John Gardner was Secretary of the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare in the late 1960’s. He also was an astute thinker about some of life’s more important issues, and he wrote an article entitled The Things You Learn After You Know It All.” In it he offered these wise words:

We learn by accepting the obligations of life, by suffering, by taking risks, by loving, by bearing life’s indignities with dignity. The things you learn in maturity seldom involved information and skills. You learn to bear with the things you can’t change. You learn to avoid self-pity. You learn not to burn up energy in anxiety…You learn you can achieve meaning only if you have made a commitment to something larger than your own little ego, whether to loved ones, to fellow humans, to work, or to some moral or religious concept…Doing any legitimate job as well as you can is in itself an admirable commitment. People who strive for such excellence – whether they are driving a truck, or running a country store, or bringing up a family – make the world better just by being the kind of people they are. They’ve learned life’s most valuable lesson.”

After I found John Gardner’s article in my files and had refreshed my memory, I knew that’s what I wished I could have helped my friend understand. And I was reminded again that the formula works. Even the frustration I had felt when I failed to help my friend had been rewarded. I had the pleasure of visiting Gardner’s wisdom again.”

~From the desk of Becky Morlok~

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