The Comfort in Discomfort

Alright folks. I did it.

For the first time in nearly two years, I strapped on a pair of poles, clipped into my bindings, and went rollerskiing. I have the blisters to prove it.

This was not part of the plan.

Note that I was never the type to toss out my skis once I quit racing full time. I love skiing, have always loved skiing, and always will love skiing. Rollerskiing, on the other hand. That I had no plans to continue. I don’t like it. It’s hot, loud, and, may I say it again, blistery.

But then, a couple of weeks ago, my brain was steaming with budgets and deadlines and the general jumble of adulthood. I had an extra long day at work, a longer day at life, and generally felt like my head and heart would explode. In this big, wide world of chasing my dreams, I ached for a sense of familiarity and routine. The thrill of being junior had washed away. I wished to feel again like I knew what I was doing.

And then, I heard the click-click-click of a pair of poles coming up behind me on the bike path. Screw it. I thought. I’m going rollerskiing. 

After taking the time to actually find my rollerskis (the ones that I couldn’t sell), I bounded up the stairs to grab my boots. Sitting at the door, I zipped them up and felt relief wash over me. I strapped on my poles without realizing I had done so, and in a flash, I was moving down the path like nothing had changed. Praise Ullr! I thought.  It’s still automatic. 

And just like the zipping of the boots and the strapping of the poles, the actual rollerskiing felt completely unaltered from how it did two years ago. My left arm still lags behind my right, my hips could still get more forward, I still know how to pull myself down a path with my core and latissimus dorsi.


Not that it was all that comfortable, or fun, for that matter. My upper body strength pales in comparison to what it once was, the crunch of each stride takes a little more umph than it used to, and, yes, downhills are still scary. But that discomfort was a familiar one–taunting though it was–and I recognized it. I didn’t fear it. I chose, rather, to wrestle with it, determined as I once was to make that wrestle feel more like a dance.

As has become my custom, I had absolutely no plans to venture uphill during this jaunt. But then the thrill of discomfort overcame me. I decided to go a little farther up an incline. For no reason at all other than it’s what we do, I had to make it to the top.

I reveled in the discomfort, the familiarity of it all. I thought about how many years I spent pushing that limit between discomfort and pain, exploring the depths of the former to heighten my strength toward the latter.

Because there is a difference.

Earlier that day, one of my new colleagues had brought up the subject in our company-wide meeting. She talked about how starting a new job is hectic, stressful, and daunting all at once, how learning new things can feel harrowing, especially when everyone else seems to know what they’re doing. But that’s all discomfort, which is different than pain. Discomfort entails difficulty or challenge. Pain alerts us that something is wrong.

If you’ve experienced both, you know the difference.

I’ve certainly experienced a bit of pain recently, but, largely, I’ve experienced a metric truck load of discomfort. Discomfort in change, in challenge, in mistakes, and in growth. I’ve experienced the discomfort of starting a new job, learning new skills, and making new goals. That discomfort originates in the simple fact that I have no idea what I’m doing. Coming from a lifetime of routine and self-planning, that feeling of inadequacy has driven me effing loony.

I’ve tried to find solace in television and books, podcasts and meditation. I tried tai chi a couple of times. This frantic space of expectation and elevation led me seeking anything that might help me feel grounded.

And then, on that late summer day, years away from my last trip down the path, I finally found a moment to touch down. Who knew that I would find routine and familiarity in something equally as uncomfortable, that fighting fire with fire would be the way feel settled.

The best part? All that time I was on the road, I felt I had no idea what I was doing. I was diving in head first, taking risks, going for it. Well, folks. Here we are again.

Cheers to skiing continuing to follow me through my professional life, and to finding comfort in discomfort. All signs point to it being a worthy endeavor.





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