It would be so much easier if we could avoid life’s difficult situations, wouldn’t it? I’m nearly quoting a friend, Caryn B (it is so weird to be quoting another Caryn but that’s another story), when her comment coincided with something that made me nervous.
First, here’s what is making me nervous. I’m in college for the first time in 17 years (MBA) and living on campus for the first time in 27 years (BA). It’s only for a week but it’s still filled with the disruption of having to get used to different circumstances and meeting new people. Both of these make me uncomfortable. We all like our routine and having to go through a disruption is usually an irritation at most. When you combine it with having to meet new people, however, it gets a little more uncomfortable. At my age, you’d think I’d be over the whole issue of making new friends but I’ve always been shy – yeah, those who know me are snorting at this point. Each of you will recall that I was standoffish in the beginning and once I got to know you, some of you even told me that I’m nicer than you expected. That’s shyness. I’d bet nearly everyone has it to some degree.
No big deal, right? Right. It’s still uncomfortable though. And here’s where Caryn B’s quote becomes relevant. I could avoid this disruption in my routine and the discomforting feeling of being the new kid. If I did, though, I’d miss out on learning (I’m on a college campus, remember?) and making new friends. Since everyone is in the same program, it’s logical to think we’ll have a lot in common. Some of them I even know from working together online. See how easy it is to talk myself around the discomfort? This is how we all work ourselves around difficult situations. We take things in small chunks or we tell ourselves it’s not really that difficult until we’ve gotten through the issue.
Now let’s take the discomfort up several notches, to nerve wracking or outright painful. Imagine telling your neighbor that they need to keep their dog fenced or you’ll call animal control. Or how about telling your boss that you made a mistake? Or telling your spouse you’ve lost your job or your kids that you’re getting a divorce? These don’t have to be ugly conversations to hurt. And yet you may gain something from them, such as a safer environment or an improved ability to do your job. Learning from our own and others’ mistakes is part of life and difficult situations are part of that learning.
To paraphrase Caryn B again, it’s a shame we have to have the pain to get the education. She goes on to ask whether we’d appreciate the education if we could avoid the pain. I think life is bittersweet, that having the bitter intensifies the sweetness. Certainly we taste sweetness without the bitter but it’s not as, well, sweet. So, yes, I think we learn without the pain of difficult situations but I also think we appreciate the education more when it doesn’t come easy.