Interesting Thought: Embrace Your Growing Edge
Growth comes from stepping outside of your comfort zone. Skills come from struggle.This is certainly true if you’re trying to improve a specific capability or skill; something like lifting weights or doing math. But it’s also true more broadly. If you want to improve yourself and your relationships—and gain confidence, compassion, and wisdom—you’ve got to embrace “your growing edge.”
In her new book, Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, author Melissa Dahl (full disclosure, Melissa edits my work at New York Magazine and I think she is wonderful) dives deep into the situations that make us cringe; situations during which all we want to do is run in the other direction. And, according to Dahl, that’s exactly what we tend to do. We avoid awkward conversations; immediately divert eye-contact when we see something (or someone) that looks odd; and pretend not to hear things that make us cringe. Retreating like this during times of awkwardness may feel great in the moment, but it comes with a cost: it often hinders our personal and relational growth. Rather than retreat, we should lean in when things get awkward.
For example, in Cringeworthy, Dahl writes about an organization called the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB). PISAB is dedicated to bringing people of all ethnicities and creeds together to have open conversations about racism. The whole point of these conversations, according to Dahl, is to create awkwardness:
PISAB calls the awkwardness that arises when well-meaning people stumble around when trying to talk about racism ‘your growing edge.’ It’s something to watch for, PISAB says, because it signals an opportunity. “That’s the moment to sit with,” says Justin, a PISAB leader. “Why do I feel this way? Check in with yourself. There’s the most amount of possibility to grow when you’re in discomfort.”
The concept of your growing edge applies to far more than just conversations about race. Think about all the topics and situations that might make you feel awkward; the topics and situations that when you confront, your first instinct is avoidance or escape. It might be gay marriage. Or mental illness. Or the tattoos on the forearm of the “otherwise” great job applicant in your office. It doesn’t much matter because there are limitless possibilities. By definition, the things that you’re liable to find most awkward are probably the things that you could stand to learn more about. Instead of trying to avoid these issues, raise them. So long as you do so with a compassionate and open mind, the result is likely to be a good one.
Personal example: a family member is in the polyamorous dating scene. It’s basically a community where people openly date multiple other people, sometimes even after they are married. At first, I kind of avoided the topic with him merely because I thought it might be awkward to inquire about details. Though I consider myself progressive in my views, this is something I just hadn’t really heard about before and I had never spoken with this person about intimacy or sex. Nevertheless, I finally decided to embrace the awkwardness, to ask this person about his experience with polyamorous dating. The conversations that ensued were wonderful. I learned more about this person, and I expanded my concept of sex and love. Afterwards, I felt foolish for ever thinking it was an awkward topic to discuss in the first place.
That's just one example, and it's certainly not that awkward. But hopefully you get the point: The next time you find yourself cringing, instead of automatically running in the opposite direction, pause for a second and ask yourself: might this actually be an opportunity to grow? Then, embrace the awkwardness.
Coaching Corner: Knowing What it Takes
I was 14-years old and going into my freshman year of high school. My best mile time was 5 minutes and 10 seconds, and the farthest I'd ever run was 2-miles...and that was in a race. Yet, I was about to embark on a 5 mile run with an 18-year-old Senior who had averaged faster than my mile best for a 5k. And it was in Houston, Texas... in the summer, which meant god awful heat and humidity.
I was about to receive my introduction to high school cross-country. This wasn't official practice, but instead a favor. The best runner on the team had taken me under his wing, inviting me to train with him during the summer to prepare for the upcoming season. I wasn't sure what I'd gotten myself into. We were just going for a "distance run," he told me over the phone. I'd never actually gone for just a "run" in my life before.
Up until that point, training meant either running a few fast intervals on the track or running very hard over anywhere from 800 meters to a mile. Coming out of junior high track, just "going for a run" was a foreign concept. As the run approached, I wondered how fast we would go, was it supposed to be all-out or would I jog along like the old-men I'd seen in the neighborhood? All I knew was that it was my first run with our senior cross-country captain, so I better not suck.
As we began trotting down the street, he explained the loop we'd take. Two and a half miles out, traversing the neighborhoods we both lived in, before turning around and making our way back. I didn't dare ask about pace or the purpose, or any other of the dozen questions circling in my brain. I latched onto "2.5 miles out." For the first mile, we exchanged small talk, until all I was able to muster up were small words. "Ya, okay, good," became my method of communication as we passed the 2-mile distance and into what for me at the time was the unknown.
We were running 6-minute mile pace, something I'd previously only done during 2-mile cross-country races. He was completely comfortable. I, on the other hand, was entering what I affectionately call survival mode. We hadn't even reached halfway and I was in over my head. "Just make it to the turnaround, just make it to the turnaround," was the only thought, other than the ever increasing pain, that was in my head. It worked well enough until we made it to the turnaround. Now, I had two and a half miles staring me in the face, with no way to convince myself that I was going to make it home.
I fought on through 3 miles, pulling out all of the stops, shifting my mind into race mode, until my body and mind had enough. Somewhere around three and a half miles, as we made our way down the sidewalk, in front of middle-class houses, I stopped. My hands went to my knees, and throw-up came spewing from my mouth onto the manicured lawn of the middle-class suburban homes we had been running past.
He turned to me and offered a line of sincere encouragement: "You're doing a good job. It's your first run. It'll come."
My stomach emptied itself of contents and my breathing began to normalize. I looked up and saw Matt standing there, finger on his watch, waiting to start to back up. As he saw me looking up, perhaps in search of sympathy, he stated, "This is what it takes."
That's when it hit me. It didn't matter that I had just puked my guts out. We had a run to do. We had to make it back to our homes. I'd signed up to explore how good I could be in this crazy endeavor called running. He was offering me a choice, either run or don't, but if I did, training would be the norm.
The next mile and a half were slower, but I made it back home. And we'd repeat the same ritual, the next day, and the next, and the next. Only without the throw up. My journey in running had begun.
My first true training partner, Matt, passed away last week. I'll never forget that run or the many hundreds of others we did. Matt taught me what it meant to go all-in, to see how far you could push your body, and more than anything to have no qualms about what it takes to be good at just about anything.
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