endure | trudging along the path to freedom
This week I planned to write about taking action.
I had written pages of words meant to encourage my readers to take the next step towards the life they’ve imagined. The problem was, I couldn’t even convince myself. As I read the words I’d laid out on that page, I wasn’t buying it. I didn’t feel inspired and I certainly wasn’t taking action. I felt I had nothing honest to say on the subject and I couldn’t ignore the irony of my inability to take action. I was left with no option except to talk about what was getting in the way.
I woke up yesterday steeped in anxiety, surrounded by thoughts that demanded to know where I was going to go from here. I read the words that I had written and I struggled against my own advice that inquired what’s the next step? I didn’t know know the answer and I had suddenly forgotten why it even mattered in the first place. I had been failing to acknowledge that this isn’t a linear and logical process. It’s not as simple as knowing what you want, believing in the possibility of it, and then going out and making it happen.
You won’t always know exactly what you want nor will you be consistently convinced that it’s even possible.
I couldn’t rid myself of the anxiety I was feeling, and so, like any self-respecting twenty-nine year-old, I called my mom. I told her that all week I had been excited by the possibility of creating my life in whichever way I saw fit and today I felt terrified by that very same thought. The uncertainty that I had wholeheartedly embraced had flipped on me and now suddenly I felt overwhelmed by it. I wondered if this experience was one I could continue to withstand. What I wanted was to escape it; my mom knew I needed to be with it. She reminded me that anxiety is something I have been dealing with for years and I will likely continue to do so. Our conversation helped me to realize that if I’m going to continue down this path, there are going to be days when I feel blindsided by uncertainty, overwhelmed by the experience that only yesterday had thrilled me to my core.
Although there are many things I’ve yet to figure out, I know with absolute certainty that I want to be free. And for that, I have to be willing to withstand the discomfort that comes along with it. Freedom is coupled with uncertainty; choosing freedom will inevitably lead to days spent within the discomfort of my anxiety.
I used to see discomfort as an unfortunate deterrent to taking action, a warning sign that perhaps what’s wanted isn’t actually worth the required course of action. I’m now realizing that there may be something to be gained from the discomfort we experience as we strike out towards what truly matters to us.
We seek to eradicate discomfort as soon as it arises, but what if we embraced it instead?
All of this has me thinking about my friend Sarah. One of the first things I learned about her is that she has a sincere passion for hiking. I don’t mean hiking up Quarry Rock - Vancouver’s most frequented leisurely day hike - in your flip flops, I’m talking Into the Wild. She sets out for days spent on aching feet in torrential downpour ending in dehydrated dinners and subzero sleeps surrounded by banks of snow. It’s almost like she goes out in search of something treacherous. One day she returned from a hike where she had been attacked by a nest of wasps only to proudly display the golf ball-sized welt they had left behind as though it were a badge of honour. It took me a while to figure all of this out because quite honestly, her hikes sounded downright miserable. What on earth got that girl out of bed before the sun rose only to chase down days of pain and misery? Why not simply skip over that crap and take the gondola up the mountain? The view is no less spectacular, right?
What I’m starting to understand is that it’s the discomfort of the hike that makes the view worthwhile. At an unexpected moment, the skies open up, the air is clear and the truth finds its way to her. It travels through the wind and whispers in her ear without her even noticing. She sets out on the path, not entirely sure what she’s after, knowing that what she is looking for will find her when the moment is right. She relishes in the struggle to discover the bliss within it. She appreciates the discomfort for what it’s worth, knowing that without it, the serenity would be minimized by the lack of growth.
What’s most incredible is that Sarah takes what she’s learned from the mountains into her everyday life. She bravely embraces her greatest challenges, knowing that her current experience is shaping her into the person she will one day become. She has taught me that we put ourselves on the path of discomfort so that we can grow and that the reward is hidden within the challenge, not on the other side of it. The anxiety I’m experiencing today will be translated into elevation and growth tomorrow if I am willing to endure it and learn from it. When the sun breaks through the clouds, it will be brighter than it ever was before.
Ever wonder why we so often hear about lottery winners who didn’t find happiness at the end of that rainbow? Perhaps it’s because they didn’t experience the challenge in attaining it. Maybe it’s not actually about that thing we’re after, but the process we’re committed to in attaining it.
Those things we desire give us the motivation to forge ahead through discomfort, towards the happiness that has existed within us all along.