“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” –Viktor F. Frankl
The principal of a school was concerned about a complaint from a parent regarding the size of the desks in the third grade classroom. “Some of the children are this tall [pointing low] and others are that tall [pointing high], but the desks are all made for kids of this [average] height.” “Therefore,” she continued, “some of the kids will be uncomfortable. Are you okay with the kids being uncomfortable?” Feeling trapped, the principal wondered if he needed to go out and buy new desks of varying height.
If I were the principal, my answer would be very simple: “Yes, I am okay with them being uncomfortable.” Yes, it is important for kids to learn how to adapt to their environment. If we keep customizing the environment to make each person comfortable, not only will we go bankrupt, but we’ll also keep them from being able to adjust to the world around them.
Change requires a certain amount of discomfort. Change requires us to get used to something new and unfamiliar. That is the essence of change. Innovation requires change. The new iPhone is uncomfortable at first, no matter how sexy it is. We need to learn the new size, operating system, buttons, and so on. It takes a little adjusting to adapt to the shiny new phone, but most of us love it once we’re there.
For those of us who want to keep our comfortable old phones, we get more and more obsolete until there’s no provider who will support it anymore and we eventually have to go through a major upset to life as we know it when we finally have no choice but to move forward.
When I was little, my great grandmother told stories of going on chaperoned dates in horse drawn carriages. Now I have to teach my daughter not to get rufied. Environments change whether we want them to or not. That is at the core of evolution; we adapt or die.
Blockbuster, Dell, Eastman Kodak, and Sears are prime examples of companies that failed to adapt to changing technologies and market needs and struggled as a result. Tiffany, PayPal, Nintendo, and The Gap all saw shifts in the market and adapted to succeed. Did you know that Nintendo started out with playing cards and The Gap sold records?
By constantly tailoring the environment around us to suit our fancy, we are handicapping ourselves in the battle of the survival of the fittest. Complacency leads to obstinence and laziness, not the characteristics we look for in leaders and team players. Take global warming, for example. Without leaders to help us adapt to rising sea levels, many populations of people will run into grave situations.
To be on the frontier breaking ground—or even just to keep up with changes around us, like global warming and immigration—we must be flexible and adaptable. We must be able to handle certain levels of discomfort. I’ll take that one step further and suggest that, not only must we be able to handle discomfort, but we must be able to persevere without being distracted by it.
We love to be comfortable. In fact, biologically we aim for the state of homeostasis or balance, which manifests in comfort. However, both internal and external forces impact our ability to stay that way. We grow and age; it gets hot or cold outside; we run or become angry; the stock market crashes or gains. Whether we like it or not, we need to experience discomfort to thrive.