A few weeks ago, I had a chat with a Trinity colleague who works with students. She mentioned that incoming students seem to have an increasing lack of coping skills when they arrive at college. In those critical first few days of college, the discomfort of The New and The Unknown seemed to throw some students into isolation and/or panic. Although we offer a fun, informative, and supportive orientation program, walking into change will never be without some discomfort. She saw students retreating because of that discomfort, without a sense that it was temporary and would soon subside. That tendency can be very costly.
Our conversation resonated with me for many days, and I began to look at my own behaviors and choices around discomfort. I remember my own college application process. I switched high schools in the middle of my junior year when my family moved across the country. I had been overwhelmed by the changes in my life, and the college search and application process had me utterly paralyzed. This was especially challenging for my college professor/administrator father. College was his comfort zone. For me, it was a big UNKNOWN horizon and I didn’t know how to move forward. Ironic, considering my future profession, isn’t it?
I hope my history of discomfort in this process has made me a more empathetic admissions professional. So, consider that Embracing Discomfort Advantage Number One: you can draw on previous experience to have a better perspective of others’ struggles. In other words: “I’ve been there, and let me help you know what’s on the other side of that discomfort.” I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I wasn’t willing to do that. Have you ever tried to learn something from a genius? People who have not struggled with something are not always good guides. If something came naturally to them, they may not know how to teach someone else to navigate the path.
Embracing Discomfort Advantage Number Two may be this: it is the only way to a fulfilling life. Playing it safe will never bring you long-term fulfillment. Think of all the clichés around this: “Life begins beyond your comfort zone,” and, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” They are clichés for a reason. Playing it safe will keep you stagnate, and there is no guarantee that because you feel safe, you actually are. Life will happen around you, and Life is not responsible for your safety.
Life at college and the learning process itself is not comfortable. It can be fun, engaging, exciting, challenging, rewarding, frustrating, exhausting, inspiring, but I have never heard a student describe his or her college experience as “comfortable.” So when The New is in front of you keep plodding forward deliberately and carefully. Stay empathetic to others and kind to yourself, but keep moving toward The Unknown. Now is not the time to turn back. Time is not kind to those who let discomfort rule their actions. If you are uncomfortable those first few days of college, if you aren’t sure your roommate is the best match for you, if your classes feel intimidating, keep showing up, keep being present, let yourself reside in the discomfort for a while. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t even need to be impressive. Just stay present. Stay receptive. Embrace discomfort and hang on until you see what’s on the other side.