Not long ago, I asked a graduate teaching assistant to give a guest lecture. “But I’m not comfortable talking in front of that many people,” she said. At first, I was flabbergasted. What was she doing in a program that often leads to a teaching job? Then I remembered: She is part of a generation reared to believe that feelings are paramount and that life requires trigger warnings. Like many things, these ideas grew from good intentions – combating prejudice. But they came to mean that no one should ever feel uncomfortable. This is a counterproductive, even dangerous, notion. We cannot be protected from every risk and challenge. If we were, we would never learn anything. The best way to get comfortable – and good – at something is to do it, even in the presence of severe phobias. Research shows that immediate exposure to a feared experience is the best treatment.
As a graduate student, I was devastated when my papers were rejected by academic journals. It seemed like a condemnation of my choice of a profession. I thought it wouldn’t happen once I’d “made it.” I’ve now published more than 120 papers, and most still get rejected on the first try. I’m no longer devastated by rejections – but I am not comfortable when they arrive. Nor was I comfortable writing my first book. It was a struggle. But if my papers sailed through the review process, they would be worse. If I had decided to quit while writing the book, or not start it at all, I would have been more comfortable in the moment – but missed the opportunities it opened.
If you are comfortable, you are not learning. Feeling uncomfortable is not a reason to reject an opportunity. It’s a reason to embrace it.
–Jean Twenge, “Comfort Is Overrated,” Psychology Today