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The Uncomfort Zone

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Ever since I started my recent intense writing journey, the number of topics I want to write about has been expanding steadily (exponentially would have been a much snappier choice of a word, but it also would have been mathematically inaccurate). My drafts folder keeps welcoming new inhabitants daily, and by now I need to scroll through a few pages to see my earlier ideas.

Why do I keep adding drafts into that draft-dorm instead of turning them into articles and setting them free into the world? Two reasons. One, I get new ideas worth writing down more often than I write new posts. Two, more often than not, when I want to write a new post, I have a fresh topic in mind — and typically it seems more exciting than all the inhabitants of the draft-dorm.

But this time it was different. This morning, I had a number of interesting recent drafts to choose from. They all were peeking from their dorm, calling for my attention. A post on my experience of living without a phone for the last few days (not by choice). An article on the importance of asking questions. A longer article aptly titled If You Don’t Own the Platform, the Platform Owns You that I’ve been working on — or rather on and off — for a while. I even opened one of them and started re-reading what I had written, which is my standard way of resuming writing a piece.

And then I stopped.

No, there was nothing wrong with the draft or the topic. I could work on it and have a solid article an hour later. In fact, there was nothing wrong with any other candidate for today’s post. But something was amiss. And that something was the feeling I experienced a few days ago while writing An Unlikely Letter— a short post that was supposed to be a light reading about my infatuation with books, and ended up a very personal essay that dug deep into my past.

That was the first time I experienced that feeling while working on an article, but certainly not the first time I felt it. I know it all too well from writing my novels. Especially the one about life and death that had been haunting me for years — which one day I will finish. The feeling of reluctance. Of a struggle. Of being afraid to make a wrong step.

The strong feeling of discomfort.

I don’t like that feeling. I don’t like it at all. When I encounter it, I immediately recall an urgent thing I need to do right away. Actually, I recall more than one time-sensitive high-priority task. Check mail — there may be a new subscriber or a reply to the dozen of partnership proposals I sent out this morning. Share yesterday’s article on Facebook. Take a look at the stats. What if there is a spike and I don’t know? And sometimes I do some — or even all — of these tasks, knowing fully well that they have nothing to do with the text I was writing when I realized their urgency.

But then I come back. To that text. To that line. To that thought that had sent me away from the dread of completing it. Of thinking it through. Of facing what seems like an impenetrable brick wall with no entrance in sight. Of arriving to conclusions I may not like.

And when I come back I no longer avoid that feeling of discomfort. I take a deep breath and ram straight into it. Because I know that its presence is the best indication of something valuable. It’s not a brick wall I’m facing. It’s a solid rock. But that rock needs to be blasted to show streaks of gold hiding behind it.

My best writings — the lines I’ve been proud of, the lines that give me the right to call myself a writer — have always come from those moments of severe discomfort. And it’s not just about the outcome. It’s about the process itself. The moment of blasting through that rock wall and finding my stride is the best feeling I know as a writer — and one of the best feelings I know, period.

Even seeing a new book published is not as powerful as this sensation of pure freedom. When words seem to appear out of nowhere, as if typed or handwritten by some invisible hand. And yet I know that these words are mine — more mine than all the words written in the cozy calm of my comfort zone. And what years of writing have taught me is that I can experience that feeling of flight only after blasting through the wall of discomfort.

There is nothing wrong with being comfortable. In fact, I like being comfortable — whether in writing or in life in general. It’s an equivalent of sitting in a comfy armchair and having a great conversation with a good friend, while watching fire dance in the fireplace and sipping dark red Chianti from a sparkling glass. It’s great. Except those moments need to be earned — or life or in writing. To have that cozy chat you need the means to afford the fireplace, the armchair, and the wine. Not mention the room to put it all in. You need to be worthy of a friendship with someone you respect. You need to learn enough to have a meaningful conversation. Or in case of writing — you need to think and write, and write some more.

And that writing better not always be comfortable.

Because learning — true learning — begins where comfort stops.

Comfort zone is where we enjoy the results of pushing through the uncomfortable. And consistently avoiding discomfort is the best way to ensure won’t be much to enjoy. This applies to everything in life. We can’t learn to walk without falling. We can’t learn to swim without going underwater. We can’t learn to write without facing — and pushing through — thoughts that for whatever reason make us uncomfortable.

To fly you need to leave the ground. Even if it means you may fall. And that’s why from now on, I will be pushing myself a bit — or a whole lot — more in every article. Because I want to fly again. And these posts have been too comfortable. Perhaps, this is the conclusion I wanted to avoid when I paused soon after deciding to write this post instead of the easy one. And I’m glad that I pushed through to get to that conclusion.

What about you? How often do you voluntarily venture into your own uncomfort zone? And what do you find there?

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