Being comfortable with discomfort

Whatever you do, and wherever you work, you’re going to face tension. And the tension will be about your ability to be comfortable with discomfort.

We’ve discovered endless solutions to the world’s easy problems. What’s left are the uncomfortable ones. The problems that lead to uncomfortable conversations about things like gender equality, income, education, working conditions, food security and housing. Problems we know exist, but ignore.

A good friend reminded me recently that every day we have a choice. We can either accept the status quo – or we can try to make change. And if and when we decide to go against the grain, we have to learn to be okay with feeling tension and accept the fact that people might not like us. More often than not, the discomfort we feel usually means we’re doing things that other people might not agree with because they’re too busy hiding in fear.

Most of us are taught from a really young age to be liked, to avoid discomfort and do as much as we can to do what everyone else is doing. As a result, we’ve learned to become intolerant of conflict and ignorant of reality.

We are in a dangerous moment in time because every day in health care we are faced with the easy and urgent problems. Problems like heart attacks and cancers and injuries that demand our immediate attention. Problems with answers that can be easily found in clinical practice guidelines. But in between and underlying these problems are the uncomfortable problems – the ones worth talking about. The problems that will only be solved if we can learn to embrace conflict. The problems that might just make our urgent and easy problems go away…

Making hard choices and having uncomfortable conversations isn’t easy, especially at first. But most often, these things are exactly what we should be doing.