For my first actual blog post, I have decided to write about the concept that drives my life every single day: seek discomfort.
This concept was coined by the Youtube channel Yes Theory when they first began their journey as content creators. To me, it means to always push yourself to go outside your comfort zone, to relentlessly challenge yourself, your mindset, and your set notions of life, in order to live life to the fullest. I live by this every single day, so here are two of the many examples of me seeking discomfort!
So, my Iowa adventure. Let me set the scene: it's a snowy afternoon in Knoxville, TN. My good buddies and I are eating lunch together between classes. I was just minding my business, eating my stir fry, when they get my attention by shoving a phone in my face exclaiming, "ANNIE! LOOK AT THIS!!" It was an Instagram post advertising Bernie Sander's caucus rally with a free Vampire Weekend concert. It was an opportunity too good to pass up, even though it was halfway across the country during school. I was originally hesitant because of budget concerns and who all was coming on the trip (apparently skipping classes to drive halfway across the country wasn't as appealing to most of my friends as it was to me). But when the trip was confirmed to only have me and four of my good friends, I decided to take the leap because I didn't want to miss out on this chance to see Bernie Sanders and Vampire Weekend!
We quickly put forth our efforts in finding accommodation and planning out our journey. We found a few road-trip stops along the way (cocaine bear in Lexington, visiting friends at Indiana University) and booked our Airbnb for the night. Obviously, we had to skip a day of classes in order to make it to the rally with time to spare. But it was definitely worth it.
Now you might ask, "what's so uncomfortable about a spontaneous trip across the country to Iowa and back in the span of 3 days?" Well, to that I say a couple of things. It was uncomfy for a few of the trip participants to skip classes, it was uncomfy for a few of the participants (and their parents) to drive across the country with people who weren't older than 20 (especially through the night on the way back), and it was definitely uncomfy to sit in a Prius for a total of 24+ hours.
The first spontaneous college road trip with your friends is usually an unforgettable experience. In our case, we got to bond with each other with a range of music selections, see our favorite presidential candidate and one of our favorite bands perform live, experience myriad of you-had-to-be-there moments, and create a sizeable amount of inside jokes.
We all had to seek some type of discomfort on the trip, whether that be monetary, parental, or physical, but I think in the end we all agreed that the benefits much outweighed the discomforts.
This one has some obvious discomfort: jumping off the self-proclaimed "world's highest bungee jump above the sea" is not something for the faint of heart. I've always been impulsive with these adrenaline-producing activities, and overhearing a gaggle of Asian men across the bridge gazing up at the brave bungee-jumpers saying, "Is that a girl doing it? It must be because her boyfriend wanted to do it so she felt pressured to do it with them. Women wouldn't volunteer to do such things, and even if they did, they shouldn't, it's unladylike!" just motivated me further to commit to the task at hand.
Those who know me well know that I do a lot of things to spite people, especially men, so obviously I had to go bungee-jump to prove them wrong; that I, a sixteen girl at the time, could bungee-jump, so they should never underestimate females.
I first had to jump through a few hoops before I could prove them wrong, however. I was with my aunt, who is deathly afraid of heights, so I had to convince her that I would not die from bungee jumping before she would let me go. I also had to convince the attendant that I was old enough and of sound mind to go bungee jumping; he was very skeptical of me, this tiny American teenager who looks like a child, and why I was doing something that he believed to be"adult". But after convincing him that my passport was indeed real and that I was actually American and 15 years old (I had to pass an English test??), he finally let me sign the forms and get all geared up.
After getting a briefing from another attendant, I was climbing the stairs to the jumping platform by myself. I didn't have my glasses so I couldn't see very well, which made the whole experience that much more scary; I'm also scared of the ocean, so that added to the level of discomfort.
When the stairs cleared to the open sky I was starting to regret my decision but nevertheless, I pushed myself forward; there was no way I was succumbing to cowardice after getting to the top of the platform. I neared the edge of the jumping point and stepped into the shackles. I joked with the attendant that I was a prisoner and this was all self-punishment, but he wasn't amused-- probably because he listens to jokes like that every single day. He went over what he was about to do, which was basically him pushing me off the platform and how I would back onto shore by a boat.
Suddenly, I found myself gazing down upon the Pacific Ocean. My heart was pounding, my breathing felt restricted, my fight or flight instincts on high alert. Fortunately, the attendant didn't give me much time to think before he told me to step forward, lift my hands, and wave to the camera on the right. Three... tw... On the end of number two, he shoved me off the platform and I was sent free-falling into the air, barreling towards the sea.
The first three seconds of falling resulted in me screaming, but then I laughed after realizing where I was and what I was doing: in the middle of the air crossing off an item from my bucket list.
The rest of my day in Dalian was experienced with an adrenaline high. My aunt eventually told my parents that I bungee-jumped and they were mad at me for taking that large a risk.
But even back then, I realized that a life without risks was a life I didn't want to live. Even at the age of 15, I understood that seeking discomfort was the only way to push yourself forward in life. I was so proud of myself for taking the literal leap that made my summer worthwhile. Plus, the Chinese men who said that girls couldn't/wouldn't/shouldn't bungee jump saw me walking back across the sea bridge with looks of shock on their faces, so I was beyond satisfied.
Adding onto the Chinese proverb that says "the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step," my good friend Adrian said, "So take a step. Somewhere. And then that can become your adventure." This statement embodies the root of seeking discomfort. Growth is not stagnant. You have to actively step forward in all realms of life. You cannot hope to move forward and achieve your full potential if you're not willing to step out of your comfort zone at times.
Think of it this way: every single thing you can do now was probably outside of your comfort zone at some point. Toddlers find being potty-trained daunting because it's moving them outside the comfort zone of diapers. Schoolchildren find it challenging to go to school for the first time. Teenagers are perhaps pushed out of their comfort zone when they learn how to drive for the first time. Young adults face the learning curves of first leases and first full-time jobs. But you get the point.
The concept of seeking discomfort has roots in psychology; Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a good reference to why we should all strive to seek discomfort. At the tippy-top of the pyramid, the concept of self-actualization reigns over the other needs. Self-actualization is the endgame, according to Maslow, and is defined as "a concept regarding the process by which an individual reaches his or her full potential" (Britannica). The process by which someone reaches their full potential... how is such progress supposed to occur if there is no growth?
Thus, if there is no discomfort, there is no growth. And if there is no growth, what even is the point of being alive? After all--religious beliefs aside--we are only human beings on this piece of floating rock for a limited amount of time. So, for those in society privileged enough to already have achieved Maslow's first two tiers in the pyramid, are you going to make the most of it by pushing yourself forward and do everything in your power to achieve self-actualization? Or are you going to lose out on all the opportunities of life because you're uncomfortable?
And to that, I forever will say: seek discomfort, my friends.