But then one day she floated idly into the gulfstream. The water was different, new, chilled. Exhilarating. Suddenly she wanted to explore, to move and to struggle, to find new places and push against the current.
On her first day she swam for fifteen miles against the current. At the end of her day, she found that her fins were weak. Her tail was aching. Her gills were gulping. She was completely exhausted.
The next day she tried feebly to swim against the current again but it felt like pushing through mercury. Every scale cried to stop and she listened. She ate, rested and she floated for a few days until she was ready to swim on.
For weeks she swam into ever-new territories. Her fins ached every day, and then a bit less, and eventually she could swim with no ill effects.
Proud of her new non-lazy self, she pondered the next challenge. What, she wondered, was up there?
And Halan swam up to the surface and out into the air.
Sudden knifing pain in her gills! Desperate flapping of her fins as they tried to get purchase! Blindness and dizziness and vertigo and woe!
Halan splashed back down into the water where she could breathe and move and see. Halan had gained no small measure of stubbornness in her months of traveling against the current, and she was determined to try again.
Blindness, suffocation, horrible flailing and panic! Aieeee!
Halan tried a third time to the same result. At this point common sense ruled and she tried to swim through the air no more.
Halan is smarter than many people.
The moral of the story
The very delightful Alison Gresik and I were having a conversation about this guest article I wrote on how I deliberately abandoned comfort in order to lead an interesting life, and she asked a very smart question:
You talk about embracing discomfort, but you also talk about how great work doesn’t need to be painful. What’s the difference between pain and discomfort?
To me, Halan demonstrates the difference:
Swimming against the current causes discomfort. (And awesomeness.)
Swimming into the air causes pain. (And no awesomeness.)
Doing hard and amazing and important work requires effort: moving against resistance, stretching old skills and growing new muscles. This effort is uncomfortable, like your thighs on the day after a workout. That discomfort is a sign that you’re improving.
Doing the wrong work causes pain: the effort is unnatural and forces you into damaging positions. This is painful, like your tailbone the day after you slipped on the stairs. (Get well soon, Abby!) This pain is a sign that you’re doing the wrong thing.
So, in short:
Pushing harder into discomfort makes you grow stronger.
Pushing harder into pain makes you grow weaker.
Here are the aforementioned glorious Alison’s thoughts on the subject. (She wrote a story too. And it’s a good’un.)
What are your thoughts on whether pain is always bad, discomfort always good, and if fish are more awesome than frogs? Tell us a tale in the comments!
If you’re looking to expand into more discomfort with your business, DIY Magnificence will provide the gulfstream to swim against.