Stop Hiding from Discomfort
Updated: Jul 14, 2021
I totally bombed at an open mic night two weeks ago. Maybe not bombed, but didn’t do well, or at least how I’d pictured it. It was my first time on stage by myself, playing the keyboard and singing at the same time. Usually, I’m only singing. So this was a little different.
I was nervous about it all week — I’m still not quite sure why. Musicians go to these things to practice, to see what sounds good outside of their bedroom walls. Not to mention, I wanted to do this. No one was holding me against my will. But I was having dreams about it, like I was going to have to put on a clown suit and tell my most embarrassing secrets to a group of strangers.
Let me add here that I was doing this self-gratifying keyboard-playing debut at my favorite coffee shop, a place I used to go and do work on my laptop, and would look at the stage and the keyboard, hoping one day I’d be up there playing.
And then I was – and I hated every second of it.
I was really hoping that there was an imaginary door underneath of me, and that someone was in charge of pushing a button when they noticed musicians on a fast decline of performance failure, and I would drop through the floor mid-song. But, that didn’t happen, and after I was finished, I said thank you and almost ran off of the stage.
I went back to my seat and fought back tears. And then was mad at myself for wanting to cry. And then contemplated an escape route without seeming rude. And then thought about how quickly I could apply to a teaching job in Thailand and never think about a career in music again. And then thought about taking up another instrument. And then got mad at myself again.
Being behind a microphone, just singing, had become so comfortable to me, that any amount of discomfort seemed so foreign. Discomfort, then, became a level of vulnerability that I didn’t want to come in contact with. But what I didn’t realize that night, was that it was so, so necessary.
The point of this story is, we are never growing if we don’t find discomfort in things we want to do. I so badly want to play an instrument – the keyboard and guitar, specifically – and sing at the same time. It’s something that I put off pursuing for the longest time, though, because I was so afraid of exactly what happened: feeling uncomfortable. Not being good at something. Being completely vulnerable.
The same goes for anything we want in life. Want to get in shape? Exercising is uncomfortable. Want to go back to school? Being one of the older students in your classes is uncomfortable. Want to grow in your company? Start a business? Move to a new city? Change your whole life? It all requires a level of discomfort.
I was listening to a podcast yesterday, and the guest on there (I can’t remember his name) talked about how accomplishing goals in life is like hiking through a canyon, or like a U-shape. You start hiking down, and you’re enjoying the scenery. You’re not sweating yet, the weather is perfect, and you essentially haven’t faced any fears yet. Then, as you get closer to the bottom, you start to hear some weird sounds. You begin getting scratched up by bushes, and fear starts to set in. You’re at a point where you can still turn back, but if you do, you wouldn’t have accomplished anything.
So you keep going. You let the fear walk with you, and you start to see the uphill climb, which is the most difficult. But now you can see the end. You force yourself to keep going, even though you’re tired and resistance is screaming in your ear. And when you reach the top, you come out a different, better person. You take in the amazing scenery, and have a newfound sense of accomplishment.
It took me a few pep talks and about 12 hours to get back on the keyboard. Nothing great comes quickly; it takes work, practice, and persistence – which, if you’re like me, is a little hard to accept. But it’s so true. And if you keep going, the view on the other side will be worth it.