Growing: When We Are Most Alive

personal growth Apr 05, 2022

(Updated post from 2018)

 

Being comfortably uncomfortable

By the time we’re adults, many of us tend to shy away from the discomfort of trying new things, because we don’t like to feel stupid. And yet – when we step out of our expertise and comfort zones and are willing to be comfortably uncomfortable, this is where we can truly grow. 

 Will Robertson is one of those people that appears to be good at everything he does, which is simultaneously awe-inspiring and completely disheartening. Will is the chorus director and interim music director at my synagogue, Congregation Bet Haverim, and he teaches with Berklee College of Music. He’s an insanely talented music producer, engineer, arranger, composer, and performer. 

As a Strengths Coach, it’s exciting for me to talk with someone who has crafted his life around what he does best. When we talked in Will’s studio, he commented, “I’ve been lucky enough to be able to set up my life in a way where I’m consistently hitting the sweet spot of my abilities.” So, of course, I was curious to know about the places where Will struggled.

 

When a king leaves his castle...

Apparently, while Will can knock it out of the park with a guitar, he’s not exactly your star player on the softball field. Our synagogue has a softball team called “The Ben Gays.” We have some great players, though our annual recruitment pitch has generally placed significantly more emphasis on the need for a pulse over prior experience (their words, not mine!). 

A few years ago, Will joined the team because he had a pulse and liked the people. He also thought, “How hard can it be to go out there and hit a ball?” I was less surprised to learn that Will’s ball-playing skills were…. somewhat underdeveloped, but I was definitely surprised to learn that Will was anxious playing softball! 

To be honest, I was a little glad to hear that Will felt a similar stress when he was up to bat as I often do in singing solos. Everyone is watching, and until you feel solid, the most likely possibilities seem to be that you will embarrass yourself, let everyone down, or both. 

Will recalled, “I felt most relieved just after I was up to bat. I realized that I had the most time between then and when I had to bat next, and I could just enjoy watching the game.” Sometimes I feel that way after I sing too!

 

No one is a finished product

The outfield was also a place of anxiety for Will. Having spent his entire childhood and adolescence practicing music, he hadn’t developed much by way of spatial skills and the depth perception needed in sports. It’s so helpful for me to see these as skill sets that we have or haven’t put time into developing, rather than talents bestowed upon some people, but not others. It gives me hope that I can actually keep growing versus seeing myself as a finished product.

 

Choosing growth over comfort

The moments when we choose growth are so important to our development as people. As someone who enjoys hanging out as an expert in the field of music, Will doesn’t often have opportunities to be so vulnerable and exposed, even when the stakes are relatively low. It’s so easy to choose to stay comfortable. And yet, without putting yourself out there, can you ever really grow?

We also agreed that these uncomfortable spaces are when we feel particularly alive. After all, what is more alive than something that is actively growing? 

Will’s softball experiences also helped him work better with musicians in their own processes of growing. Having been in that uncomfortable place himself, he now had the empathy and the language to help musicians move through stuck places more effectively. Since I started recording with Will three years ago, I have definitely benefited from this empathy!

Here's the second part of Will’s story where we talk about what he learned about teaching music while taking lessons in fly fishing. In the meantime, where’s a comfortably uncomfortable space you might take yourself this week? And what impact might that have on you personally or professionally?

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